Each year, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival presents groundbreaking work from around the globe and across Canada. Inclusivity and accessibility are two of the festival’s core values—PuSh aims to share performing arts experiences with as many people as possible.

For every show they work with consultants to see if it is accessible to people who are Deaf, hard of hearing, blind or partially sighted. Because most people are more interested in a show where nothing needs to be done for them to come see it. Sometimes an introduction can help make a show accessible, giving some essential information. They work with the community to choose which show will have captions, ASL-interpretation or live description by VocalEye.

PuSh shows are often groundbreaking and innovative. They push and break through boundaries to bring performing arts experiences to new audiences. This also applies to their approach to accessibility. This year, the Deaf community chose to have a Deaf performer be part of Never Twenty One on January 21st to make the show more welcome to the Deaf community, rather than using an ASL-interpreter. An exciting new approach that focuses on integration rather than accessibility.

In 2023, there are no relaxed performances. Instead, a number of the shows and experiences are “Extra Live” which means they are always relaxed. It is OK to move or make noise or walk around, there are no strobes or flashy lights, and you will never be in full darkness. PuSh asks all artists to create a visual story with lots of pictures. It helps people decide if the show is right for them or prepare for the experience. It tells you everything you need to know: what the lights are like, the sounds, the content and what the most intense things are.

For some venues, they also have visual stories so you know what the space looks like and what to expect.

Among the shows at this year’s festival: two immersive audio experiences and a show where you walk around in a coffee shop and eavesdrop on what is happening at different tables.

Check out our top 5 accessible shows to experience at this year’s PuSh Festival:

A dancer in black pants stands facing away from the camera, arms gesturing. The room is darkly lit, highlighting their bare back and arms which are covered in white-painted testimonials of the families of young Black men who have been victims of gun violence.

Photo: Lorenza Daverio, Feroz Sahoulamide

Never Twenty One (Jan 19-21)

This is a dance performance to grieve, honour and protest for Black men who have lost their lives to gun violence before reaching 21 years of age. The show pays homage to the memory of Black men in New York, Rio de Janeiro and Johannesburg who have died from shootings.

It is a very visual show. As we watch the dancers, sometimes we also hear noises, and music, and people’s voices sharing how gun violence has affected their life. They speak in English and in Portuguese.

PuSh often has ASL interpreters at shows. But for this show, they are doing something different to welcome the Deaf community. For the first time at PuSh, there will be a Deaf artist, Carlo Castillo, who will be performing the voices that speak or sing English in ASL during the show. It will only happen for the English parts.

Woodland style painting of two stylized figures outlined in black facing each other. They have red skin with bodies composed of yellow, blue, and pink outlined shapes. A black line connects their mouths. Above is a blue moon and owl. The background has red dots and a red border.

Painting: Niiwin Binesi

The 7th Fire (Jan 25 – Feb 5)

You are invited to connect to the medicine that lives within you with The Seventh Fire, an immersive audio performance inspired by ceremony. Drawing from Anishinaabe stories and oral traditions, artist Lisa Cooke Ravensbergen invokes sound and story as the somatic link to ancestral realms.

You go into the Lobe Studio, where you can stand, sit, lie down or move around however you want. As The Seventh Fire starts, the studio’s 4D Sound System envelops all. The space becomes a portal to dreams and the story of sisters Daanis and Nimise and their grandmother Nokomis.

To go into the studio you do need to go up two small steps.

This show is Extra Live; always a relaxed performance. It is OK to move around or make noise and it will never be all dark. On the PuSh website you can see a video visual story that helps you see what it will be like.

There are free tickets for Indigenous people.

Nine cups with different choices of tea and coffee

The Café | Jan 27-29 (In-Person), Feb 2-5 (Digital)

In this show, you walk into a coffee shop and get to eavesdrop on private conversations. Witness intimate relationships up close and personal. The Café invites audiences to explore seven little performances by nine playwrights of different ethnicities, ages, beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities. You are free to stay at one table and watch a scene till the end, but you can also walk around the coffee shop and see what is happening at another table–it’s a theatrical Choose Your Own Adventure.

You can come to the café in person, or go to an online immersive experience where you can wander through the virtual café from home, using only a web browser.

This show is Extra Live; always a relaxed performance.

It is OK to move around or make noise, it will never be all dark, and there are no strobe lights or any flashy lights.

nora chipaumire, wearing a white and black-patterned jumpsuit, thick black necklaces, white and black head covering, and white sneakers, looks into the camera. she sits on top of a high stack of wood stereo speakers, feet resting on top of a black speaker.

Photo: Mirka Pflüger

afternow | Jan 28-Feb 5

Afternow is an installation, a tower of wooden speakers that will be set up in the exhibition hall of the Roundhouse. The speakers will be playing music, an opera. But not any regular opera, it is the story about Nehanda, an African lion spirit venerated by the people of Zimbabwe and central Mozambique. Nehanda inhabits mortal women, notably Charwe Nyakasikana, a revolutionary behind the uprising against British colonists in the late 19th century. There are also projections on the wall.

The whole opera is almost 4 hours but you can come at any time. It is a kind of experience and story where you can start listening when you want and leave when you want. You can walk around and make noise, it will never be dark, and there are no flashing lights. This is also an Extra Live experience.

It is free and you don’t have to reserve, you just go to the Roundhouse Community Centre.

On two dates, there will be a “dub night” later at night with loud music and flashing lights.

A figure wearing a salmon-coloured shirt and face mask holds up a red tube exhuming a large cloud of white smoke that envelops the room. On the ground are multicoloured pieces of crinkled plastic.

Photo: Mirjam Devriendt

Are we not drawn onward to new erA | Feb 1-4

A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same forward and backward—for example, the title of this show. This theatre production is like a visual palindrome. That means if you watch it backwards it would still look the same. You will see how people make a big mess (like we are doing to our planet right now) and then you see them undo what they did and make things right.

“Created with charming, almost childlike, simplicity, the skill of the performers and those who conceived the piece cannot be applauded too highly.”  Simon Parker, Western Morning News

There will be some moments of darkness at the beginning and the end, and there will be a lot of smoke (not real smoke, it is made of water but it looks like real smoke).  There are no strobes or flashing or intense lights.

If you have any questions you can reach Accessible PuSh Coordinator Anika Vervecken at access@pushfestival.ca. For more information about accessibility at PuSh, visit the Accessible PuSh page on the festival website.