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Inside Out Theatre is transforming Calgary’s arts companies into Good Hosts

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When Inside Out premiered their show, Make Love Not Art, at the 2018 High Performance Rodeo performing arts festival, they quickly realized they were showcasing people with disabilities on stage, but the show itself rather inaccessible.

From there, the local disability arts company, headed by artistic director Col Cseke, developed a program aimed at making the city’s arts more accessible to people with disabilities – the Good Host Program.

“That was a bit of a light bulb moment for us,” said Cseke.

“As a disability arts company, we needed to make sure our programs were accessible for audience members. After we made that decision, we realized that this was a conversation a lot of theatre companies were having, about how to make their work more accessible.”

With companies individually pursuing their own ideas of accessibility, Cseke and Inside Out Theatre realized the value in offering a central resource that would serve to unite those efforts and create a standard of service.

The Good Host Program supplies organizations with audio descriptions and touch tours (guided tours where blind or visually impaired audience members may touch props, set pieces, and costume items involved in a show), ASL interpreters, and relaxed performances (specially modified performance nights for audience members including those on the autism spectrum, learning disorders, and other individuals who benefit from “relaxed” environments).

From that inception, the Good Host Program has grown to partner with more than 15 different theatre groups for over 50 Good Host events this performing arts season (from fall 2018 to spring 2019).

One of those theatre groups is Lunchbox Theatre, which recently partnered with Inside Out Theatre to co-present Assassinating Thomson. Assassinating Thomson, which was previously presented at the Glenbow Museum, is a show created and performed by visually-impaired local artist Bruce Horak.

Valmai Goggin, Lunchbox Theatre’s Development and Administrative Associate, worked closely with Inside Out Theatre to utilize the Good Host Program at Assassinating Thomson and at other Lunchbox Theatre events.

“To have a formalized program to work with has been really fantastic,” said Goggin.

“Throughout the 18-19 season, we’ve had five Good Host shows – one which is still coming up – and we’ve accessed all of their streams in terms of ASL, relaxed performances, and audio described and touch tours.”

The Good Host Program is a uniquely made-in-Calgary phenomenon, with no other comparable program in another Canadian city that has approached the issue of accessibility from a holistic perspective aimed at people of all abilities.

“We have a pretty constant influx of folks from other cities in Canada reaching out to us,” said Cseke. “Often in the conversation they’ll out-and-out say things like, ‘wouldn’t it be great if this existed in Toronto?'”

With a rapid uptake of the program in the past two years, Cseke is hoping to see growth of the Good Host Program in many areas.

Chief among those areas, he’s looking to expand out to other artistic disciplines, offer further streams of programming, and to even move beyond Calgary’s borders.

“We do have to continue to think strategically about where to go next,” Cseke said.

“We’ve done a relaxed concert with the CPO, one of our first non-theatre events. In a broader sense of cultural accessibility, maybe we do an audio description of the Pride Parade, or work with Wordfest to have ASL interpretation of author talks…that’s all in the works as we speak.

“The bigger question is moving outside of Calgary, which is very tempting. But it’s a question of whether or not it’s feasible for us now.”