The Martin Harris Centre for Drama and Music is both a study and performance space within the University campus, offering a wonderfully diverse programme. This includes pieces of drama, literature events and a wide variety of musical concerts, performed by a mixture of both professional artists and students. Many of these events are free, so fellow Institute for Cultural Practice students have neither a financial nor geographical excuse to get out of visiting this wonderful venue!
I have been working with the Centre as part of my placement module, conducting the feedback project for their first ‘relaxed performance’ (a Christmas carol sing-a-long concert) that was held in December 2016. For those unfamiliar with the term, relaxed performance generally refers to any type of artistic event in which the usual formalities (staying in seats, not making noise, etc.) are forgone in order to provide a welcoming and enjoyable atmosphere for the audience. Though a relaxed performance is suitable for absolutely anyone, they prove particularly popular with people who have conditions such as autism or dementia and may feel uncomfortable attending a standard performance. While the performance content is mostly the same, additions such as ‘chill out zones’, unreserved seating and open doors help visitors with certain needs –and their carers/companions- to feel comfortable in the space and therefore enjoy the show without worry.
The Martin Harris Centre’s first relaxed performance was a huge success, attracting many new visitors to the space and providing a fun, engaging musical concert for a diverse audience. The festive tunes were lead wonderfully by MUMS (Manchester University Music Society) and general feedback for the concert was excellent, with much praise for the Centre’s staff and their preparation for the day. Indeed, staff preparation was key to the success of the event, therefore all members of the team (including myself) underwent specific training sessions in the run up to the concert; this allowed us to learn techniques and approaches in assisting guests who may have certain needs and more generally improved our awareness of the importance of relaxed performances. Many attendees of a relaxed performance (including many of those at the sing-a-song) have never been to a theatre before, and it is only with the creation of this understanding, non-judgmental environment that they feel comfortable enough to do so.
Certainly the importance of this type of performance cannot be underestimated, however nationally the supply is by far outweighed by the demand, therefore more relaxed events need to be programmed in arts venues across the county. The Martin Harris Centre will continue to contribute to this issue by staging more relaxed performances in the future, the next being on the 7th June, a summer themed sing-a-long as part of the annual ‘Estival’ music event.
I will certainly be attending, not in a professional capacity (as my placement will have finished by that point) but simply because I know it will be a brilliantly enjoyable event, just like the previous one. I hope other members of ICP will be able to come to the concert, not only to show support for fellow University students (the event is again lead by MUMS) but also so you can see first hand how enjoyable and moving a relaxed performance can be.