Saphia Bishop – coordinating Candoco’s Travel

Saphia Bishop, Assistant Producer at Candoco Dance Company, tells us why attitude really is ‘the difference between an ordeal and an adventure’ when it comes to coordinating travel for a touring company of disabled and non-disabled dancers.

Much of my work on our touring logistics for Candoco Dance Company involves coordinating accessibility across accommodation, transportation and at venues across the world. Working with promoters and venues, clear communication, patience, understanding, compromise and a sense of humour are all pretty essential requirements because I’ve learned that everyone’s idea of accessible is different.

Getting 14+ company members out on tour internationally and nationally is not always an easy undertaking, and Candoco’s recent performance in Guanajuato, Mexico attests to that. From contract negotiations through to the performance on 10 October 2015, the arrangements were some 6 months in the making and involved:

1 x primary Candoco contact for logistics
2 x detailed emails outlining key information, our requirements and questions
2 x videos of a backstage ‘walk around’
3 x contacts in Mexico for logistics
4 x 30+ minute Skype conversations
5 x full company transfers (and their luggage) in Mexico
7 x physical adaptations made to spaces
10 x days on the road
14 x emails marked ‘URGENT’ or ‘VERY URGENT’ or ‘!!’
15 x people on tour
19 x photos of access routes backstage, in dressing rooms, hotels, studios and bathrooms
21 x items of luggage including set, costumes, 2 wheelchairs, and approximately 60 square metres of spandex
163 x emails exchanged (at a guess)
850 x audience members entertained

This, I’d say, is a relatively average reflection of preparations for most of our international dates. With performances in Valencia, Athens, Antwerp, Germany (twice), Marseille, Stockholm, Mexico and Nigeria within the last year alone, it keeps us busy.

We are fortunate that the majority of people we work with are keen to do all that they can to resolve access issues we might encounter whilst on the road and our Mexico tour was testimony to this.

Our time in Mexico presented a number of access challenges for hotels, vehicle transfers and at the venue, and the support we had from the Festival Cervantino team and the British Council ensured these things were surmountable. At the theatre venue there were partition walls removed (one of my favourite solutions for inaccessible spaces – we’ll just knock the wall down! Yeah!), grab rails fitted, temporary dressing rooms installed, ramps laid out, backstage routes cleared (backstage can often look like a hoarders idea of paradise) and extra crew members on hand.

Whilst this may seem a lot of work, it’s part of what is needed to highlight that these spaces are not always open to a wider range of artists and companies. All too often we encounter a Front of House with some excellent access for its audience members; step free routes to the auditorium, adjustable stalls, and wheelchair friendly restrooms, but when you’re in the midst of working out why a dancer has had to exit the theatre through the back of the goods entrance whilst it’s raining in order to get back to the dressing room some 200 meters away, you do wonder at how often architects/building designers/access officers made the assumption that disabled artists just wouldn’t be working there. It’s partly this challenge that our presence there highlights, and in some ways it underpins why we aim to go to more far flung places to perform as well. Whilst the access is extremely varied (and sometimes non-existent), we do find that it improves after we have visited. 

The proactive and enthusiastic approach from our partners in making access work makes such a big difference. It doesn’t mean that issues are always fully resolved and there’s a lot of compromise involved, as Penny Pepper pointed out in her recent guest blog for whatsonstage ‘…there remains a play off between access, toilet and dressing rooms. As in: you can have one, maybe two, but three? Now you’re being cheeky…’ an observation we frequently find true. But I dread to think what we’d be up against if that willingness to make things work wasn’t there.

Photography by Rebecca Dawson, Executive Director
Link to Candoco Dance Company

Thanks to Festival Cervantino and British Council. Our next stop is Switzerland for Dance Festival Steps.
Saphia Bishop