Published Monday, October 21, 2019
How Carleton’s longest-running club is not only involved in the culture of accessibility on-campus, but continues to lead the charge.
“It hasn’t [always] been easy,” expressed Natascha Sekerinski, of Sock ‘n’ Buskin Theatre Company when asked if integrating elevated standards of accessibility to their productions—both on stage and off—has been more or less of a challenge than expected. “But it also hasn’t been anything we aren’t willing to do, or at least try.”
Sock ‘n’ Buskin is Carleton’s longest-running club, and Canada’s oldest student-run theatre company, founded in 1943. As a theatre company their goal is to create and foster a community that is fun, inclusive, and supportive. Three years ago they took that mandate one step further by making the decision to do their best to make all of their shows as accessible as possible, and reached out to the Paul Menton Centre for training and resources to help get them there—they’ve been working with PMC for annual training and updates ever since. “Theatre is for everyone,” Sarah Sheils was quick to add. “Why should we limit who can participate?”
Sarah Sheils and Natascha Sekerinski are the Co-Artistic Director(s) for the current Sock ‘n’ Buskin season. They are the ones who oversee all productions and ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible when bringing a director’s vision to the stage. I met with them in Rooster’s Coffee House, on the Carleton University campus. Outwardly, they appear just like every other student juggling classes, a social life, and extra-curriculars—and that was the overwhelming bottom line of almost everything we talked about, that anybody can be part of making a difference.
What has been the biggest challenge (for making changes towards accessibility)?
Sheils: Working within the timeline constraints of the school year is definitely more important *laughs*—
Sekerinski: —but we’re doing our best!
Do you think that other theatre companies might be intimidated by the idea(s) of accessibility, and the changes it could mean?
Sheils: I think people don’t like that it might mean more work in addition to their already busy schedules.
Most of all it’s about awareness, Sheils emphasized, saying “I think I pay more attention to the WAY we think about things.” It doesn’t uproot what they do, it just means they might take a different track to getting there.
Even with all of their success, the efforts have not been without growing pains. “It wasn’t our greatest moment…” Sheils revealed about a past production that featured a very high number of extremely hot and bright lights on stage for both rehearsals and performances—the actors were uncomfortable, even more-so if there was a disability-related reason. “We tried to make sure we had fans and cold water for them backstage,” Sheils added, pulling the sleeves of her very soft-looking pink sweater down, over her hands, halting in her words to find the ones to properly express what went awry. “We ended up finding compromises,” Sekerinski explained. “But I wish we had [done a little more].” Realistically, that’s part of the process of growth. It says a lot more about the company that they are able to recognize and improve on past experience than the fact that not everything has always gone perfectly says on the opposite side—that’s showbiz, or something like that.
There have also been moments of pure success. “[A cast member] needed [on-stage accomodation] due to an injury [that occurred post-casting, pre-performance] in one of last year’s productions,” Sheils recalled. “And [the prop] was just worked into the on-stage character.” Anything like that is possible.”
Without putting a specific name to it, Sock ‘n’ Buskin have set their sights on Universal Design—aiming for all shows this year to be fully accessible. From the audition-process, to the rehearsals, to the venues they choose for live shows. As deemed by the NDA’s, Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, “Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that is can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability.”
What do you want people to know about Sock ‘n’ Buskin [and accessibility]?
Sheils: that we are always open to solutions and accommodations—
Sekerinski: —everyone says it, but we mean it when we say we want to work with people and will put in the effort.
To learn more about Sock ‘n’ Buskin Theatre Company, check out their website.
National, Disability Authority. “What Is Universal Design.” Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, 2019, universaldesign.ie/What-is-Universal-Design/.