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(Not written by me) "This is not a disability gig": the musician putting on inclusive nights to break down barriers Musician Robyn Steward, who has 10 disabilities, including autism and cerebral palsy, explains how venues can be more inclusive By Sam Davies Thursday, 21st November 2019 Robyn Steward is a trumpet player, teacher and author. She has 10 disabilities, including autism and cerebral palsy. She loves music, particularly jazz and experimental, but has rarely found gig venues where she feels comfortable, as both listener and performer. It is with this in mind that she started Robyn's Rocket, an inclusivity-conscious live music project, in 2017. Robyn’s Rocket is not a “disability gig”, Steward says, but somewhere people can have fun regardless of their ethnicity, sexuality, religion, gender, ability or what language they speak. “Experimental music gigs often attract a bunch of white men,” she adds. “If you’re a white woman or a woman of a different colour skin... you might feel a bit overwhelmed.” She’s been to gigs aimed at specifically at disabled fans before, but felt disillusioned. “I would go to a lot of gigs that are geared towards people with learning difficulties and autism,” she says. “And they put on loads of great bands with disabilities, and they’re just mainly playing to a disabled audience. I thought, that’s silly – those bands are just as good as bands without disabilities. “Often the word ‘inclusion’ is just used about disabled people,” she continues. “But actually if you don’t fit into a binary gender, somewhere that has gendered toilets is not inclusive of your needs. And it shouldn’t be, ‘oh, you can only really go out if you can speak English and read English.’ Everyone should be able to follow what’s going on.” Making it easier for audiences and performers Robyn’s Rocket takes its name from the spaceship design of Steward’s specially made stage. On stage the equipment is all colour- and shape-coded to make it easier for performers to recognise their stuff. These shapes and colours also match with the names on the timetables around the venue, meaning fans can see who is playing when, without needing to read the words on a page. At the bar, menus are printed in large, Arial font, complete with pictures, meaning anyone ordering can point to what they want if they would prefer not to shout over the noise of the club. Fans will also be given a rocket-shaped “communication badge” on entry: position your rocket pointing upwards if you want to talk to new people, downwards if you’d rather be left to enjoy the music, or sideways if you want to speak to people you know already. Steward plays trumpet, though not as you know it, wiring it through a series of pedals. She plays twice on the night, first with cellist Kathy Hulme as avant-garde duo The Hairdressers, then with the funk and salsa influenced band Bassheads. Also on the bill are free improvisation band Jamaica and trumpeter Steve Pretty. Next stop Glastonbury? Robyn’s Rocket is a work in progress, but Steward hopes one day she might take the event to the Scala in London, or to Glastonbury. Next year she plans to invite other musicians and promoters to host their own inclusivity-conscious gigs, while Robyn’s Rocket will be going to the Wellcome Collection as part of the Beautiful Octopus Club, a disability club run by creative arts company Heart n Soul. “I’m hoping I can influence how the industry thinks about inclusion,” says Steward. “There’s a lot of division between people at the moment. We should all be more together. And celebrate difference.” How venues can improve their inclusivity Venues can apply to the Arts Council for capital grants if they want to install a lift or a hearing loop. But there are lots of little things they can do, such as painting the edge of stairs white or yellow for people with a visual impairment, or having large-print bar menus. If it’s a standing venue, have some fold-up chairs. Managers should set up an email so people can contact the venue with their requirements. And it’s important for venues not to see inclusivity as an add-on, but as something they can be creative with, and a work in progress. The next Robyn’s Rocket is on Thursday 21 November at 7:30 pm at Cafe OTO, London E8. For more information go to robynsteward.com Source: iNews