Riverbrae School and Inclusive Work
In May and June I spent time with five classes at Riverbrae, a new additional support needs school in Linwood.
I have always tried to make my work inclusive; The Edibles had no words and I have used other ways of communicating like supported language using Makaton, visual narrative and live music.
I worked with children who were predominately 5-8 years old and on the autism spectrum. I observed a typical day in their class and got the chance to lead a drama session.
Up until now I have tended to use the term ‘additional support needs’ as a broad term, but working with children on the autism spectrum made me realise how unique this audience is, and how their requirements are quite distinct.
None of the children I worked with were wheelchair users, I think children with autism do not usually have physical impairments. They do have a natural curiosity to explore what is in front of them and physically move around the space. They discovered everything I brought with me ahead of when I had planned to use it! There were things I assumed would be straightforward which didn’t go to plan. It was a great exercise for me to not be precious about my work (even in a workshop!) and let the audience be the ones who guide it. It made me think about making a performance for this audience, rather than their curiosity disrupting the drama or revealing any surprises you were trying to keep hidden, you have to build this into your expectation that this is what will happen, so embrace it and make this a part of the performance.
It was also lovely to see again that children, regardless of their ability or disability laugh at the same things. They loved chases. They loved getting picked up and moved around the room like a frog. They are human beings with the same need to connect to others. It’s my job now as the artist in this project to find accessible ways to make this happen.
It also made me realise that making work exclusively is something for a bit further down the line. For it to be meaningful it needs the proper resources and investment; the audience has to be small, and the ratio of performers high.
Right now I’ll make sure that this first version of the show is inclusive and accessible to a broad range of children. I’ll focus on celebrating the universal human traits that bring us together.
STAR PROJECT & DECIDING AGE RANGE
I also worked more with the STAR project in Paisley, delivering more of their drop in classes for under 5s and their carers on a Friday.
They are a lovely group and so open to arts experiences. I thought I might lower the age range to accommodate early years as well however I think I have to challenge myself and make work for 5-8 year olds this time.
GALLOWHILL PRIMARY SCHOOL
I worked with four classes between P1 and P4, my target audience of 5-8 year olds! They were all very positive about the idea of a show in a giant teapot. They gave some great responses to questions such as ‘Who did they think lived in a teapot?’ ‘What is the story?’ ‘What would be title of the story be?’ The characters they came up with were hilarious; a tea monster, a talking teabag! We are planning to go back and show them material a bit further down the line. I also tried out some of the multi-sensory ideas like smells which they responded to very well.
OILY CART THEATRE COMPANY
I had the pleasure of accompanying theatre critic Mark Brown to see Oily Cart perform their show Kubla Khan in Victoria Park School, Carluke. Mark has always been a big supporter of theatre for young audiences and is a friend of Oily Cart. He has actually written a book about them, here’s the link if you want to buy it:
The version I saw was for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties. It was designed for an audience of six at a time, plus their carers. Oily Cart have three versions of this show:
For those with profound and multiple learning disabilities
For those on the autism spectrum
For those who are deafblind with or without any cognitive impairment.
It was fascinating to think about what you would do differently for each group; the young people I saw were all wheelchair users so it was all about bringing the action and sensory experiences to them. For children on the autism spectrum it would be about allowing them to explore the space around them. There were four performers so for an audience of six the experience there was a lot of individual attention to each child.
It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, it was like watching a masterclass of how you get it right. It was essentially a journey through sensory content while still using the language and characters of the poem. They used water, ice, sand, bubbles, and even melon! There was a beautiful section towards the end where the audience are each awarded a medal (which smelled like a lush soap) and the actors sung to them using their name and their faces were projected on a screen using a live video camera. Absolutely beautiful, carefully considered work.
The preparation Oily Cart does ahead of their visits to a venue or a school is brilliant, and their resources are all available online. Their social stories are excellent ways of preparing the children for what to expect. I found this particularly useful as a map of the whole show:
Venue Audit with Ellie Griffiths
There’s a wonderful project happening this autumn with the dance company Barrowland Ballet. Ellie Griffiths is a theatre maker who makes work for neuro-diverse audiences. She is a fountain of knowledge and her passion and care for this often marginalised audience comes across in abundance. Ellie has been working with Barrowland Ballet to make Playful Tiger, a version of their successful shows Tiger and Tiger tale that is suitable for children with profound autism. The performance will start in a structured way; the audience of 8 watch some dance content. Chairs will be laid out for them if they want to sit. This then moves onto a more improvised dance section, that will respond to what happens in the room, where the young people want to go, whatever happens really. Barrowland Ballet have been doing some workshops with children with autism and I have heard the participants love deep pressure physical contact, so that is a part of the show.
As well as the show itself the project encourages venues to consider how they can best support young people with autism when visiting cultural spaces. I think the fact that the show takes place in venues is such an important element of the project; and with the right preparation it should give parents and carers as well as the young people themselves more confidence that they can have a successful and enjoyable trip to the theatre like everyone else.
I was lucky to come along to a venue audit of Johnstone Town Hall with Ellie and a young boy Coery, who is on the autism spectrum. They gave us a bit more insight into how a young person with sensory processing difficulties might experience going into a venue. We did an exercise where we were blindfolded and wearing ear defenders and given various things to hold, smell. It was quite a bewildering exercise, quite frightening really. It’s hard to imagine feeling like that all the time.
We then started outside and made our way into the venue and Coery identified the challenges for him, e.g. bright spot lights, the changes in floor texture when entering the building, the massive space of the auditorium itself. Where possible Ellie talked to the front of house manager Sara about how to minimise these problems, and also identify a chill out space, as well as a meeting place for the audience to assemble on arrival.
Soundplay Dome Deconstruction
Later that day, I got the chance to go into Soundplay Dome again. I love that space! Bal and Ewan revealed their secrets to us all, showing the technology they used to make the space. Some of it was really simple, apps from an i-pad touch in props. I was particularly interested in learning how sections of the walls of the dome lit up, as I would like the whole of the teapot to change colour.