A few weeks ago I met with Sarah at Theatre Bristol to think about neurodiversity and application procedures. Theatre Bristol advertises for Artistic Support Associates annually and on their most recent advertisement for this role wrote that they welcomed applications from applicants whose backgrounds and experience are underrepresented within the creative industries, including people who identify with being neurodiverse. I applied for this role and identify as neurodiverse and shared with Theatre Bristol (TB) that I had found the process challenging. It was great to be invited by Sarah to meet and speak more about how to make the application process more accessible.
Firstly, what does it mean to be neurodiverse? Neurodiversity is a concept where differences are that recognised and respected as any other human variation. These differences might be known as Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, Mental Health conditions and others.
I am no voice of neurodiversity, I can only speak from personal experience. My experience is that I have a mental health condition that has lasted longer than 5 years which presents barriers in the way I engage and interact with the world around me. In my work life I am an independent performance artist and an artistic director of the charity Many Minds. We facilitate creative spaces and make performance with people who are managing their mental health, and who might identify as neurodiverse. I also work as a consultant and have worked with arts organisations to provide training and consultancy around mental health, participation and access.
The social model of disability recognises and accepts that it is society’s responsibility to cater for individuals needs. If you haven’t encountered this model then a simple allegory can explain it:
There is a person who is unable to go up a flight of stairs.
The medical model of disability would teach the person a way to get up the stairs.
The social model of disability would build a stair lift, or relocate the office.
Sarah and I spoke about how Theatre Bristol desire to use the above model to recognise and embed strategies of inclusion in working models to protect and support all applicants, staff, freelancers and visitors.
In terms of neurodiversity and access, particularly in application procedures for the Artistic Support Associate job there were a few areas I identified that could be improved, and suggested strategies for these. I have written about these in more detail below:
- TB could offer to speak to applicants about their access needs over the phone, via email, in person, over Skype etc. In this meeting TB could suggest ways that thy can support this process (as detailed below).
- Having a way to apply that is not an application form. The rigid structure of the application form, boxes and word counts can be challenging.
I suggested other ways for people to able to apply e.g. via video, but we spoke about the difficulty of processing multiple applications in different formats e.g. video/interview and how this might not be in keeping with Equal Opportunities.
I suggested that if TB need all applicants to apply via the form, that they might have to provide support with filling it in. This is something that Arts Council England endorse and they supply access grants to help people gain assistance to apply for their Project Grants.
I suggested that the applicant could speak to a member of Theatre Bristol staff in whatever format most suited them and that the impartial TB administrator would ask them questions from the application form and write their answers into it.
- I suggested that it could be communicated that the word counts on the form were suggested or approximate.
- I suggested that more flexibility was required in relation to the deadline of the application.
Theatre Bristol are already doing loads of things really well. They have clear guidelines that allow applicants to understand what the questions on the application form are asking. They are working on a visual story of their office space to make it more accessible and they have a policy of flexible working hours. All of these things would positively impact the well-being of the applicant/employee. Being invited to go to Theatre Bristol and having an open, honest conversation about how to improve their current processes and improve accessibility for people who identify as neurodiverse was really exciting. It made me, as an individual, feel valued and hopefully paves the way for an easier process for neurodiverse applicants in the future.
For now these are our strategies, but if you think we’ve missed anything or can think of a way to better support your access needs in relation to job applications please get in contact with me at email@example.com.
Even when we think we are being really open and accessible are we really?
When we wrote the application pack for our Artist Support Associate role we spent time carefully making it as clear and helpful as possible to attract as many applicants as possible. But how accessible was the process really? As Viki says, we stated in the pack that we were looking to encourage applications from people whose backgrounds and experience are underrepresented within the creative industries, including neurodiverse candidates.
Afterwards, Viki got in touch with me to say she felt that there were a number of things about the process which didn’t feel particularly accessible to her, so I invited her to come and talk to me about how we can improve for next time, and in a way that is manageable within a very small part time team.
The main thing that struck me from our conversation was that the offer of a different way of doing things may be enough. The idea that an organisation wants to and WILL offer support flexibility may mean the offer is not needed – knowing that the organisation is open and that the support is available if needed is enough.
And what if the offer is taken up? Well, even a small organisation like TB can provide a member of staff, not involved in the shortlisting and interview process, to support an applicant to complete the form – and remember it’s likely only to be asked for once, if at all.
I hadn’t thought about how a simple word count might be overwhelming for an applicant to such an extent that they don’t apply for the job, or almost worse they spend time completing the application only not to submit it because they are a couple of words over the 1000 stipulated on the form.
Planning is key to a good recruitment process, and putting in an extra bit of time to respond, and articulating that we want to have a conversation about how a candidate could apply for the role shouldn’t be too difficult and might pay dividends.
At TB we will definitely put into place Viki’s recommendations and we welcome any more feedback on how to improve the process for everyone.
We’re also hoping to work with Viki over the next year on a Well-Being at Work policy and individual staff action plans. Our people are our biggest assets and we need to look after them.
– Sarah Kingswell
I am looking forward to performing HELP! at Coslton Girls School later today.
I have wanted to perform in schools, particularly to young women for while because of the result of some research read about.
I had my first period of ill health when I was a teenager. It was a scary and confusing time and I remember finding great comfort in the books I read that explored themes of mental illness. I felt so much less alone, even if was a distant author writing over 50 years before. I hope that in a schools context I might be able to be that voice for someone else.
If you are interested in the increase in mental ill health in young women here is some info:
‘Rates of stress, anxiety and depression are rising sharply among teenage girls in what mental health specialists say is a “deeply worrying” trend that is far less pronounced among boys of the same age. They warn that the NHS lacks the resources to adequately tackle the problem.
‘Our daughters must not be scared to talk about mental health issues’
New NHS data obtained by the Guardian reveals that the number of times a girl aged 17 or under has been admitted to hospital in England because of self-harm has jumped from 10,500 to more than 17,500 a year over the past decade – a rise of 68%. The jump among boys was much lower: 26%.’
Cases of self-poisoning among girls – ingesting pills, alcohol or other chemical substances – rose 50%, from 9,700 to 14,600 between 2005-06 and 2015-16. Similarly, the number of girls treated in hospital after cutting themselves quadrupled, from 600 to 2,400 over the same period, NHS Digital figures show.
NHS data shows 68% rise in hospital admissions because of self-harm among girls under 17 in past decade
Suicide rate among young women doubles in a decade
Self-harm among teenage girls up 68% in three years, shows research
A quarter of all 14-year-old girls are depressed, research shows.
I am currently looking for a producer who is going to be at The Edinburgh Fringe to work with me on producing HELP!
Its mainly going to be compiling a list of venues, funders and producers and co-ordinating Invitations being sent out these. It would be beneficial to work with someone who has tour booking experience and existing relationships with venues, funders and producers across the U.K. (though this isn’t essential).
It will then be sorting comps for these people as well as managing requests from Arts Industry Office during the Fringe.
I would like it to be someone at the fringe, so that we can meet up to check in.
Someone who will be honest with me.
Someone who will say clearly what they can and cant do.
Someone who will let me know how I can help to achieve something.
Someone to have my back when I am professionally vulnerable. (particularly in week 3 when I feel like my world might be ending a little bit)
I want someone to say. Yes, thats fine, stop worrying about it.
I want someone to say, you need to pull your socks up, work harder and do this, because if you don’t these are the consequences.
I want to work with someone interested in working on HELP! now, and this being a way to create work for themselves in the future.
Going forward I would like to work with this person to create a tour pattern from the interest generated at the fringe and apply for a GFTA to support this. And I would love for this to be the beginning of a long term relationship with a producer preferably based in Bristol or The South West.
If you think this might be you, then please get in contact.
Today I am more scared than when those people mercilessly drove a van and got knives out to kill people in my home town.
That’s because an excess of 30,000 sick and disabled people died in 2015. Excess deaths are deaths that went over and above the number of expected or easily explainable deaths. This is due to cuts in health and social care.
So far we have had to accept that our government are making choices that lead to excess deaths, killing some of our most poor and most vulnerable.
Today we have the opportunity to change that.
I am scared that we, as a nation, won’t.
Please use your vote to save lives today.
(I know that I am probably preaching to the converted.
Please share this information with anyone who isn’t.)
There’s a bee outside
and its drowning.
laid on its side
two waterlogged legs un-moving
body too heavy
to roll itself over.
In front of me are the boats
and their sails
and their flags
and the children eating ice cream
and the bee which is dying.
But the gap is too large.
I’d need A pool cleaner net
and even that might not reach.
I could fashion something out of a broom and cardboard
but even that might not reach.
I couldn’t reach if I tried.
So I look at the waves reflecting the sunlight,
and the boats
and the flags
and the ice cream
and the children
and for some time I don’t look,
but the bee catches my eye again
and I watch it as it dies.
I want to take off my clothes
and jump in.
Jump two meters down
and into the water.
I want to jump in
to the water
and save it.
I have the overwhelming urge
to take off my clothes
and jump in
to the water
and save it,
but there is nowhere to climb out.
My fingers twitch with Adrenalin.
The water pulls me towards it.
The gap is too large.
I want to jump in.
to the water
and lie with the bee.
To hold it above the water
in my hand
or rested on my body
and wait for my fingers
to go numb.
I want to lie with the bee
as someone notices
and someone gets their phone out
and someone shouts,
and I will close my eyes
and lie with the bee
as it dies.
And the cold will spread to my torso,
and my heart
which begins to beat slower.
I am laid on my side
with the bee.
two waterlogged legs un-moving
body too heavy
to roll itself over.
I have sat down to work and I am angry.
I am angry that I am going to spend a day working to perform at something where I will not be payed.
I am angry that the ticket price for the event is £60.
I am angry that some people that are part of the day are going to be getting payed and I am not.
I am angry that most of these people will be in woking roles that already give them a salary.
I am angry that I do not have a salary and I will not be payed for performing.
Other people will speak.
I will perform.
This is my art.
I have poured more than three years of my life into this piece.
I have poured literal blood sweat and tears into this piece.
This piece that I will work on to shorten so it fits into the the timeslot you have given me.
I thought maybe working for free for you meant that in someway I was an activist.
That I was bringing something different and important to a cause that I believe in.
That this was my way to bring my voice to this conversation dominated by ‘experts’ and ‘professionals’.
But I am an artist.
Which means I have -£99 to live on this month.
Despite the fact that last week I worked 50 hours over 5 days at minimum wage last week to try and make ends meet.
I am angry because my ‘activism’ my commitment to work with you, a charity who I believe in is costing me around £200 in time, space, and materials.
I am angry because even if I don’t include my time, or my technicians time (and this is ridiculous because of course we should be payed). This is still costing me around £50 in cash.
So now I am living on -£145 this month, because I have increased my debt to perform for you.
This month I will be eating the inside of my cupboards.
I’m not sure that this is the way to be an activist.
I’m not sure that this is the way to bring my voice to the debate.
I feel very tired.
No, I am not.
I have a problematic relationship with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
I have taken one show there in my time as an artist, I was 18. It was one of the biggest learning curves of my career. Without proper PR and Marketing we struggled to get audiences large as we had hoped, the average audience size at an Edinburgh show that year was I believe around 6. This is partly because there is so much to see. You only have to walk down the royal mile (a road I diligently avoid when at the fringe) to find this out.
Is this kind of over saturation exciting? Well yes. As a 15 year old going to Edinburgh for the first time with my step-mother I fell in love. I had never felt so close to hundreds and hundreds of people who, like me, shared a love of performance. Here we all were gathered together to do it, and see it and celebrate it. I was absolutely sure I wanted to be a member of this community. Going from show to show was an emotional and physical rollercoaster. Some shows blew my tiny 15 year old brain, and some remain some of the worst work I have ever seen (at this point I hadn’t gained the skill of weedling out a good blurb from a bad).
So back I headed the year after, the beginning of my annual pilgrimage, and a few years later I took a show. It was my A-level drama piece, a fairytal-y, dream like, white faced, puppety, musical-y Blue Beard. ‘So far, so Edinburgh’ as Fringe Review described it, but in that review we were highly recommended. We appeared in the Scotsman because they did a little feature of shows with beards in the title and we were pictured alongside Beardyman (thanks Beardyman PR for the leg up there). People liked us, because we embodied what the fringe is all about, that anyone can naively and bravely make and present performance. A bunch of young, creative, unafraid and provocative women (this was probably the corsets rather than any political agenda) can say look what happened inside our brains, look what we made, do you like it? is it good?
And that is why Edinburgh is partially so wonderful and so fraught, because most of it in my opinion isn’t good.
Edinburgh continues to sadden me.
The arts in general continues to sadden me sometimes because of the gap between good and money. Thousands of pounds can produce a terrible show, and pennies can produce something wonderful. I know too many artists who would like to take good, urgent and necessary work to the fringe, but can’t because it is not financially viable, and too much of a risk to personal finances.
I get the majority of my income from working in a cafe and I am but one person. The concept of raising the minimum (from my budgets about £7,000) to take a show to Edinburgh is a big ask, and thats not including the cost of making the show, which would have had to be done on a shoestring.
At the fringe I would have been penniless and broke, presenting a show that I would probably be unhappy with due to a of a lack of resources, then it not getting the exposure I wanted due to a lack of resources and feeling angry, tired and unfulfilled. I don’t want my performance work to feel unfulfilling, I am in this for the long run and need to avoid personal and financial burn out.
You may wonder why people are asking for money to take shows to Edinburgh, and it’s because there is very little funding to support companies to take shows there, as it is over-saturated. This is why people like my friends have to fundraise, asking their friends and family to support them. Unfortunately this is being a professional in the Arts.
Going to Edinburgh will not only mean they have the opportunity to reach a wider audience, including theatre-goers, other artists, potential collaborators, producers, tour bookers, funding bodies and venues. These connections will probably lead to a tour and make them more sustainable as a company, and giving them work/ income over the next year.
I want them to be working in theatre for the next year (they will be regardless because they are ace and talented, and determined) but Edinburgh will help.
These girls have given me a sofa to sleep on whenever I need it.
An ear to listen when I need to be heard.
A critical eye when in creative panic.
A cup of tea when nothing else will do.
They are my peers, my friends and I am so flipping proud of them.
Support them, please, they are too good to burn out.