By Emily Baldwin
If you’ve heard anything about the U.K.’s celebrated theatre company Oily Cart, or of the recent Trusty Sidekick production commissioned by Lincoln Center Education, Up and Away, you may be familiar with “sensory theatre.”
If you haven’t, you can recognize this rapidly growing field by its three main elements: these shows are designed entirely for audiences with developmental differences; they are completely immersive, allowing for audiences to react however they want; and they engage all of the senses.
The following is a kind of sensory theatre starter pack that I developed as a result of my research in the U.K. and Ireland in 2015 and my experience directing the 2016 production by Seesaw Theatre at Northwestern University.
It should be noted that while I have found many of these elements to be common across different artists (and I give huge credit to them, in particular Tim Webb at Oily Cart, for helping me articulate these), I am speaking here to my personal experience. It should also be noted that as a neurotypical artist I only speak from my own observations and not on behalf of these audiences.
Photo Credit: Justin Barbin
Sensory Theatre Ingredient List
1. Complete show experience
As with any kind of immersive theatre, all of the pre-show communication—from the confirmation email you receive to the way you are welcomed into the space—gives you information not only about the tone and aesthetic of the world, but also about the rules of that world. For sensory theatre, providing audiences with a social story beforehand—often in print, video, or both—does just that. It can help to lessen the audience’s anxieties that come with entering a new environment and meeting strange people. You can then extend the theatre experience beyond the performance by sending the audience home with a memento from the show.
2. Accessible space
Complete accessibility in and around your theater space is a must when many of your audiences are wheelchair users or have other mobility restrictions. Achieving this can become difficult when using older buildings, so you have to take extra care and give yourself ample planning time when selecting a venue.
There are many resources you can use to ensure your theater is suitable for your audience. A favorite go-to for me is “Shift in Perspective: An Arts and Disability Resource Pack” made by Arts & Disability Ireland (you can download a PDF of it here). You can read more about the design standards stipulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) here.
3. Engage all the senses
Sensory theatre builds a world all around the audience; every little part of this world becomes part of the storytelling. Without the limitations of a fourth wall you can reach your audiences through any and all of their senses (including the kinaesthetic sense, or the sense of the body’s placement in space). As a sensory theatre artist you can explore the ways you can translate one sensory experience into another. What is the smell of the color red? What does sadness taste like? What’s the sound of a flower blooming? In this way live music becomes a critical element of this genre; when audiences can strum a guitar or bang on a drum they can experience the music through touch as well as sound.
4. Individualized attention & choice
While there may be some common techniques used across all companies that make sensory theatre, each individual audience member has their own unique set of interests, dislikes, and triggers. Having a high performer-to-audience ratio allows you to tailor the theatrical journey you’ve created to each individual. When paired with a performer, an audience member has the freedom to follow their impulses without you having to worry about distracting the others in the audience. Even if an audience member says “no” to every experience they are offered, your sensory theatre is still a success because you may be providing your audience with a rare opportunity to choose what they can say “yes” to.
Photo Credit: Rafi Letzter
Sensory theatre performers are some of the best improvisers out there. Saying “yes, and” to whatever an audience may throw at you is the only way this art form works. This skill ranges from saying “yes” when an audience member wants to blow bubbles for 30 minutes, to saying “yes, and” when an audience invites you into their imagined world. In the same way that you give the audience the authority to say “no,” when you say “yes” to what they offer, you validate the choices they make for themselves. As performers, you may find yourselves like fish out of water, but you can discover new ways to delight your audience when you allow yourself to be silly.
Like the social story, modeling behavior during the show indicates to the audience how they can respond to new stimuli (though, as stated above, it is okay if the audience does not mirror the modeled behavior). Seesaw Theatre, like its cousin Bluelaces Theater Company, achieves this with an ensemble divided into cast and Adventure Guides (or AGs) who are paired up with an audience member for the entire show. When a character offers a sensory experience, the AG will say, “Yes, please!” or “No, thank you,” and nod or shake their head to remind their audience buddy in the moment that they can politely choose what they want to do.
7. Whole-audience approach: primary and secondary audiences
Tim Webb, Artistic Director of Oily Cart, described to me the importance of seating what he dubbed the “primary audience” (those with developmental differences) next to the “secondary audience” (the parents, teachers, and aids). When the companion can share in their young person’s experience, they can see up-close what sensory experiences their young person delights in and then find ways to recreate those at home or in the classroom. You in turn can improve the theatre experience for the individual as you learn from their companion.
8. Wide-open mindset: “There’s always another way”
In developing your theatre, you will stumble upon the seemingly impossible every day. How do you find a venue that is in your budget, conveniently located, and entirely accessible? How do you transform an ordinary occurrence into an extraordinary experience that the audience can see, hear, smell, and touch? How do you handle a classroom that arrives at the performance with twice the number of students than expected? You will find ways to make it work when you just believe that it must work. There are no wrong answers here. You can always find a way.
Emily Baldwin is an NYC-based arts educator/director/performer/puppeteer, with a focus on access and inclusion. She currently serves as Outreach Coordinator for Spellbound Theatre and as a School Programs Educator for the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, among others. Emily graduated from Northwestern University with a B.A. in Theatre with a certificate in Theatre for Young Audiences. While in undergrad she served as the Artistic Director for Seesaw Theatre and a member of Team Education for Purple Crayon Players. Emily has won numerous awards for her research on theatre and inclusion in the U.K., including the Outstanding Undergraduate Award presented by the American Alliance for Theatre & Education.
You can find her on Facebook or at EBfinishingthehat@gmail.com.
For further reading:
Upfront Performance Network
Replay Theatre Company
Bamboozle Theatre Company
by Tara O’Boyle
I had a lightbulb moment while watching “King Lear” with Ian McKellan on PBS last year. “I am going to create a Shakespeare class for kids with special needs.” I said to myself, “The students are going to love it and it is going to be awesome.”
This was not out of the blue. The not-for-profit group that I co-founded, The Yellow Finch Project creates theatrical productions and in-school theater games classes for children with autism spectrum disorders and other communication issues. We were in our fourth year, and had created a broad variety of classes for all different age groups and levels of ability.
As we entered our fifth year and began brainstorming new classroom ideas, I wouldn’t let go of my dream of teaching Shakespeare to teens. I pitched the idea to anyone who would listen, with mixed results. The main concern voiced to me was that Shakespeare was heavy on language, specifically dense Elizabethan English, and language can be extremely challenging for teens with special needs. “Yes” I would reply (mostly to myself), “But what if it wasn’t? What if we could make it easy and fun and accessible?”
And so the first class began. I recruited Patty an amazing actress and fellow Yellow Fincher to test the waters with me. By trial and error, we adjusted and restructured and changed directions. Our first task was to teach the basic summary of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. I boiled the plot points down to one page and read it out loud. Crickets. By the time I got to the end, I had bored even myself. This was not the way to go.
Next we gave the class a task: create an original play similar to the royal wedding created by the Rude Mechanicals in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Suddenly, something sparked. Each student excitedly came up with an original character, lines, plot points…As a group they decided that the setting was a “Medieval haunted castle”. We had an evil Queen, a trapdoor operator, a wizard, a magician, and a humble villager who is turned into a rabbit.
Once the students’ play was completely fleshed out, it dawned on us that they had created their own Shakespearean story! We had an angry Queen Margaret, seething at Richard III. We had the Porter from Macbeth, roused from sleep. We had Henry V inspiring the audience to transform the stage with him. We had Macbeth himself, reflecting on his poor life choices with “Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow…” and lastly, we had a student who specifically requested Prospero, and conjured magical spells with his words. We even had a Shakespearean-style reveal in the last act “Don’t you recognize me? I’m your son!”
The students were proud of their hard work, and rightly so. We performed their original show in front of a small group and finished to accolades and applause. Each teen then read their hand-picked Shakespeare line (matched to their original play character) to a hushed room. It was a magical experience.
I learned many things with my first Shakespeare class. The most important lesson was to always raise the bar, and never underestimate what is possible. I was astounded at the creativity the students brought to their original play, and the sensitivity they put into Shakespeare’s words. I took away as much, if not more than the students did, and I was both humbled and energized for the next session.
In the fall, we will request the same class and tackle an entire Shakespeare play for the duration of the school year. Some of it may be performed, most of it will not be. Our goal is to focus on the characters, feel the emotions of the scenes, and enjoy the magic of the text. And it will be awesome.
“Be patient, for the world is broad and wide.” Romeo & Juliet. Act III, Scene iii
Tara O’Boyle is the Artistic Director of The Yellow Finch Project, which was created to enhance the lives of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other Social-Communication issues through dramatic arts. Tara and her fellow Yellow Finchers have created a variety of theater programs for the classroom, and launched their first theatrical production designed for an audience of special needs children, entitled, “Bookmarks: Step Into Spectacular Story Adventures” which is currently touring. A new theatrical production, “A Wisp of Air” will debut in 2017. The Yellow Finch Project is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. More information can be found at www.yellowfinch.info
Original Interviewer: Neil de la Flor, Miami, FL, USA
Additional Question: The International Inclusive Arts Network
Karen Peterson and Dancers (KPD) recently performed at the University of South Florida at a festival entitled “A New Definition of Dance”. This was an international mixed ability showcase that featured artists from all over the world. KPD was honored to be invited to perform at this dance event that showcased ballroom dancers from Eastern Europe, hip-hop artists from Canada. Chinese traditional dance from Beijing, drumming dancers from Africa as well as Axis Dance from California. All of these artists with disabilities teach and perform their form throughout the world and this festival proved to me that the world of inclusion has certainly changed and developed since KPD was established 25 years ago.
How does funding impact the mixed ability dance community?
My biggest challenge is to pay dancers for their rehearsal time on the very little funding. Each dancer makes approximately $50 per week over the course of a seven- month season. The format of the dance company with paid salaries is almost extinct but in my special circumstance, I cannot pick up a group of trained dancers and complete a project in several weeks. The investigative time it takes to explore different abilities is more than the traditional form. Finding the dollars to pay dancers for more time in the studio is a constant battle.
My unique, quirky and one-of-a-kind dance organization is ready to receive a large infusion of cash to keep the development of the programming moving forward for the next 25 years. No other dance organization in Dade County has done so much on so little and has impacted thousands of individuals in the dance and disability community on the ideas of inclusion and dance. My dream is to have the proper funding to match the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs dollars that I have received since 1990 in order to pay dancers a decent salary.
What are some of the major advantages and challenges associated with the art of mixed ability dance??
Like any contemporary dance company we make the hard work look easy. When a person shows up at the studio door and has viewed a company performance, this individual is often inspired to be “part of the KPD team”. What they do not see are the many hours of rehearsal and exploration time we spend in the studio prior to our performances. We create our new mixed-ability “language” and unlike ballet or certain contemporary dance techniques, there are no classroom steps to string together to make choreography. Patience is part of the process and as they say “a labor of love.”
The KPD group takes two classes together, one in contact improvisation and one in technique each week and rehearses 5-6 hours depending upon what is on our schedule. Since this 15-16 year we will have two new premiers in May 2016 a lot of studio time is spent on exploration and research. All of the new work starts with improvisation. Through the choreographer’s directives we ask “What can we discover together, what are our common movement pathways, how can we complement each other’s physical abilities and how can we highlight our strengths not weakness?”
Because my process takes more time than typical choreography we need more time in the studio which equals more dollars to pay dancers. Another challenge is access. We recently traveled to Tampa and accessibility is always an issue on the road, in hotels and in the theater. We are very lucky to perform in the United States where the ADA laws are usually enforced and up-to-date. When we have traveled to other countries, and their ADA standards are not up to code. We have improvised within our journeys and deal with cobblestone streets. Non-cut curbs, non-access bathrooms, non access dressing rooms etc. etc.. My dancers are very generous in spirit and part of their duty is to help solve the accessibility problems that we face outside of the studio.
On the other hand, Great Britain is way beyond the United States in funding mixed-ability dance companies, with full time salaries and medical benefits for dancers. Canduco, a London based physically integrated company, set the stage with professional dance 25 years ago and from there the movement has spread like wild fire. “Croi Glan”, a company based in Cork, Ireland, performed in our 25th anniversary concert in May 2015 on their way throughout the USA for a company tour totally funded by the Irish Arts Council. (Could we be so lucky?)
We have taught and performed in Eastern Europe four times since 1995 and Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia have been generous in spirit and curious about the work. They have a deep artistic desire and democratic leanings to include dance artists with disabilities into their culture as they try to formalize their own ADA laws into their constitutions. Often I speak to young attorneys while teaching in parts of Eastern Europe for they want to know about cut curbs, accessible buses, accessible hotels; many of the advantages we take for granted in the USA and UK.
What still needs to be done (or can be done) to de-stigmatize mixed ability dancers?
The quality of mixed ability work has developed by leaps and bounds over the past decade and hundreds of groups have heightened the attention to the professional work being developed around the world. Since 1990, many more groups celebrate the creative catalyst in their communities and embraces diversity and innovation. Mixed-ability has become de-stigmatized by the sheer growth of the form.
One of the most positive elements in my organization is the teen program that is based on inclusion. The teens that use wheelchairs, or have intellectual or learning disabilities create and perform on stage with ALL their peers. I have noticed a deep empathy or bond between the students when it comes to assisting each other especially during the performance. They know everyone has equal value in the performance. Our talent showcase breaks barriers and stigma for these middle and high school students as they go through the process of creation and performance. They are our future ambassadors for physically integrated dance.
What’s coming up with KPD—any specific performances, workshops, etc. scheduled for the
remainder of the year?
For the remainder of the season we have several important events on a local and national level. This year we have commissioned a new work by co-choreographers Juan Maria Seller and Katrina Weaver entitled “Inside the Brick”. We are looking for an underwriter to help bring the work to full fruition for the May performance. We are also in conversation with Pioneer Winter about the possibility of a duet created by him with Marjorie Burnett.
For the May 2016 program we will also present collaboration with six Portuguese dancers from Lisbon and the 5 KPD company members. We will begin the creative process in April in Lisbon with the Amalgama and Plural Dance integrated dance companies. The work will be finalized and premiered at Miami Dade County Auditorium, May 12 and 13, 2016 and will feature 10 artists, four with disabilities. This is a continuation of my nine-year history of collaborating and creating cultural exchanges with dance artists from overseas and we are looking for a Corporate Sponsor to assist with the cultural exchange.
We will also have a fundraiser on Saturday, December 19 at 6 PM at my studio space Excello and will perform small excerpts of student and company work along with champagne and chocolate desserts.
We also have a modern dance, non-competitive program for chair and non chair dancers at the company’s home, for students ages eleven and older.
By Guest Blogger Justin Kaiser
There has been an exceedingly large movement in the autistic community calling for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to cast an actor who has autism, of which there are many. Or even just to hire an autistic to aid in the casting process and making auditions accessible. Thousands of autistics have petitioned and protested for a year now.
Last month, Tyler Lea took over the role of Christopher. They did not audition any autistic actors before Lea’s contract was signed. While I am so happy for Tyler Lea and his being cast to replace Alex Sharp on Broadway, the decision also feels like a slap in the face to the autistic community and feels like a huge missed opportunity for good. I work in theatre and know casting a show is hard but what is not hard is listening to those with the disability that you are profiting off of and making some small acknowledgment, even if not through casting, that you have heard them.
“At the end of the day, this is a concern because the production has shown that they are not looking at perspectives of actual autistic people as a priority,” Ari Ne’eman, the president and co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, told the Village Voice. “And in the context of a story that is all about presenting autistic people as this ‘other,’ this alien force, that’s really damaging.”
Appointed to the National Council on Disability by President Barack Obama in 2009, Ne’eman was the first openly autistic White House nominee in history. He founded the ASAN because, he says, autistic people have historically been left out of conversations regarding their own well-being. Ne’eman says the nonprofit has been contacted by a growing number of autistics expressing outrage over the casting decision, and that the organization fully supports the community’s concerns.
“When we talk about acting as being about inhabiting a role, the question that really has to be asked here is how much is this inhabiting the experiences of autistic people versus inhabiting societal stereotypes of autistic people?” Ne’eman says. “It’s much easier to ignore autistic community input when there are no actual autistic people involved in the production.”
“That’s really what this is about, at the end of the day,” explains Ne’eman. “It’s about the idea that disabled people should not be made incidental to our own stories.”
“Other than just that autistic people start with a leg up on understanding how autistic people work, it’s also a big deal because it’s symbolic,” explains Elizabeth Bartmess, an autistic writer who earlier this year penned an in-depth critique of Haddon’s book for the website Disability in Kidlit. “Having autistic actors play autistic characters sends a really big message about how it’s important to include us in things that are actually about us.”
Representation is the issue of the decade for the performing arts. And in the game of representation those with invisible and developmental disabilities like autism are ignored by every major institution.
Lets try a thought experiment. Name an actor or actress of color. Name a woman writer, a woman writer of color, a woman producer, a producer of color. Now try naming any of the above with a developmental disability.
This is why we as autistics are sad. What invisible barriers to entry have we created, false barriers of entry that make the above true? What false expectations of what a professional artist is.
With such a large percentage of developmentally challenged individuals pursuing theatre, because theatre is often used in our therapy, why is there not one developmentally disabled artist we can name with a career? We all end up bagging groceries. That’s what I do for a living. Seeing artists like me on stage would change people’s stigmas.
Cian Binchy who was the autistic consultant on the original production in London stated, “Often people with autism who have talent are not given the opportunities they deserve,” he said. “It’s vital there are more opportunities. I do hope one day learning-disabled performance art will be pushed out of the ghetto and into the mainstream.”
Yet, the theatre is “notably lacking in excellent learning-disabled creative voices,”
Cian Binchy said he hopes one day to see an actor on the autism spectrum play the lead in the hit production about the condition, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Where will the developmentally disabled artists of the future first encounter the possibility that the arts might be something to which they can aspire?
Here are the questions that were repeatedly asked of Curious Incident casting directors Daniel Swee, Cindy Tolan, Associate Director Benjamin Klein, and press represantive for Curious Incident Susanne Tighe.
To not be able to answer these questions even just to say that things aren’t perfect now but we are working on it is a complete failure of sensitivity, training, awareness, and inclusion on the part of Swee, Tolan, and Tighe.
These are questions that a production exploring autism and how it effects the world around those effected by it should be able to easily answer. None of these answers violate the privacy of any involved. The answers to all of these questions should be very easy to access.
1) Just as you would use a ramp to make auditions accessible to actors with mobility disabilities, what did you do (such as removing small talk from the auditions to give one example) to make the auditions accessible to autistic actors?
2) After the first few auditions with autistic actors what follow up did you do with them to see how successful you were at creating an accessible audition experience and to see what you could change with future auditions for future autistic actors to make the auditions more accessible?
3) What specific things did you do to recruit autistic actors to auditions for the Broadway replacement cast before casting was announced? (This is important because these artists may not have agents or already have your contact information.)
4) How successful was this recruitment?
5) How did you measure the success of your recruitment?
6) How many self-identifying openly autistic actors did you see for the role? More than 2? More than 20? More than 100?
These were answered with the blanket statement “There has always been a policy of inclusion in the opportunity to audition for Curious Incident.”
Unfortunately Mr. Swee, Ms. Tolan, Ms. Tighe, and Mr. Endsley, true inclusion requires more than just the word “inclusion”. It requires specifics, it requires policies, it requires accessibility as required by the ADA, and most of all it requires listening to the group that you are representing.
For further reading please see:
By Daphna Weinstock
When I was first starting out in making theatre for people with cognitive differences, I was worried I was doing it so wrong that I was going to break my audience members, as if they were dishes in a china cabinet. That fear that you are “doing it wrong” is something many first-timers to inclusive theatre feel, and it is that fear that fuels the misconception that making inclusive theatre has a lot of restrictive rules and far too many boundaries. I certainly felt tied to that misconception, but as time went on, and I learned and experienced more in inclusive theatre, my whole perspective on the field and the population I was serving changed. And from my 3 years working with Seesaw Theatre, my then-student group at Northwestern University committed to devising and performing immersive, multi-sensory theatre for children and adults with Autism and other cognitive differences, I can tell you my experience was the exact opposite. Quite far from being laden with rules, inclusive theatre is some of the most artistically freeing theatre around. When I say free, I mean:
- Free to go anywhere, and I mean anywhere.
Seesaw, like so many other theatre companies doing this work, is not nearly as interested in a strong linear plot as it is with engaging the senses (to learn more about theatre for the senses, you can watch my TEDx talk on Seesaw). Once working outside of linear plot, you would be surprised how wonderfully wacky your show can become while still holding onto its artistic integrity. You can join a French tea party and then find yourself on a nonverbal farm. You can work with concrete settings, like underwater, and/or you can explore the abstract world of string. The imagination can run wild in sensory theatre, and you would be surprised by the different corners of the mind the imagination reaches when you’re working with this population. Seesaw’s audience has certainly invited me out of my comfort zone in that regard, and working with them has opened my eyes the gift of the limitless imagination. Social constructs tell us that “A” needs to lead us to “B.” Inclusive theatre would beg to differ. “A” can lead you just about anywhere.
- Free to do anything
In the world of theatre for people with cognitive differences, the actor-audience contract is completely transformed. Asking someone with cognitive differences to sit in one place for two hours is unreasonable and unrealistic, so instead of keeping them out of the theatre, inclusive theatre companies open their doors and change what is expected of their audience. And what is expected is an experience I wish for every theatregoer at least once in their life. There are no rules for how one experience a show. Sight and sound do not rule supreme in the enjoyment of a production. Audience members are encouraged to feel the costumes, smell the props. If they’re feeling restless in their seat, they’re encouraged to run around. And as an actor or an adventure guide—or audience aide—you are encouraged to do the same. Following the impulses of your creative audience member leads you to places you never thought to go in a theatrical context. I have run for 30 minutes straight with an audience member who didn’t speak much English, only to stop when he asked me to pick him up and spin him around, and that was some of the most exhilarating—albeit exhausting—theatre I’ve ever experienced. I once witnessed a fellow ensemble member having full conversation with her audience member, speaking only through animal noises. In Seesaw, and other companies like it, this isn’t bizarre in the slightest. It’s an embrace of the human impulse.
- Free to be silly…together
Have you ever really danced like no one was watching? If you haven’t, if you need a little help breaking down that steel-tight socially conscious barrier we all seem to develop, I recommend you create some theatre for people with cognitive differences and watch what happens. Part of what makes the neurotypical world at times unfriendly to those with cognitive differences is that there’s a lot of emphasis on how we look and that we behave correctly by society’s standards. People with cognitive differences don’t always adhere to those same rules, and it is in harnessing and learning from that individuality that we experience true freedom.
In this past year’s Seesaw production, we ended one of our experiences in a groovy disco dance party to KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes.” As the director, it’s difficult to explain in mere words what I witnessed in those dance parties, but the best word I can use is genuine. The dance party was supposed to last a couple minutes. Often it lasted up to seven, with the same song on repeat. Audience, actors, parents, everyone was dancing for the sheer joy of the movement. No forced smiles, no prodding to bust a move. Seesaw has taught me that there is much freedom in looking silly in public if it means enjoying yourself to the fullest extent.
- Free to experiment
Making theatre for people whose minds work differently than one’s own opens up worlds that would never have been accessed otherwise. Inclusive theatre is currently living in its most exciting time, and more and more people are taking interest in this exhilarating, bizarre, and extremely freeing type of art. And the most exciting part of working in this field is that it’s still too new to have rules. Theatre artists everywhere are experimenting with what inclusive theatre means, and they are discovering wonderful new places to take the art form of theatre every day. Now more than ever is the time to get involved with inclusive theatre and bring your new ideas to what theatre can be.
Those with cognitive differences can now experience theatre made just for them all over the world, and though this field is small, it is mightier than it’s ever been, and interest is growing. In my mind, one main roadblock keeping this work small is people’s fear of what it entails and the fear of “doing it wrong.” But in this type of work, there truly is no wrong. And that is the most freeing thing of all.
Daphna Weinstock is a teaching artist, storyteller, and inclusive theatre advocate living in New York City, and she would love to talk to you about any of those things. Drop her a line at email@example.com to share your own passions in celebrating what makes each individual unique. She is excitedly awaiting to hear from you!
we want to take this opportunity to tell you about ON THE EDGE, the World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences and ASSITEJ artistic gathering, which takes place in Birmingham, UK from 2nd – 9th July 2016
It will showcase a programme of 20 inspirational companies from the UK, Ireland and across the globe and will be accompanied by a symposium led by TYA Ireland and a social programme led by TYA NI.
ON THE EDGE is open to performing arts practitioners and researchers from different countries; performers of all genres and techniques, theatre directors, musicians, theatre designers, playwrights, performing arts academics, arts educators and teachers, theatre critics, arts journalists etc.
IIAN are working with ON THE EDGE and we want to ensure that it is an inclusive experience for all involved.
There are several opportunities of how you could be involved and share your experience and knowledge of inclusive arts practise.
Submit a proposal to the Symposia Strand
Where are the Pioneers? : ON THE EDGE of Practice & Research
ON THE EDGE will provide a space in which we have the opportunity to engage with the artistic life and explore their own practice. It will create an opportunity to share, challenge and develop ideas; and to participate in discourse and practical demonstrations from colleagues within the field.
The Symposia Strand offers a variety of allied events for delegates to actively engage in and explore exciting developments and innovative practice.
The organisers of OTE invite proposals for paper presentations, workshops, practical demonstrations, panel discussions and seminars addressing the following theme:
Where are the Pioneers? : On the Edge of Research and Practice.
They particularly welcome submissions which address inter-disciplinary exchange, practice-based research and pioneering collaborations involving both practitioners and researchers.
WEDNESDAY 30th SEPTEMBER 2015
For more information and how to submit a proposal click HERE
Apply to be a part of the Next Generation
TYA UK and TYA Ireland is happy to announce the Next Generation Programme as part of the On The Edge Festival.
The Next Generation Programme is open to young and emerging artists (under the age of 36) from any country interested in the practice of theatre for young audiences and international collaboration. A special programme will be created across the 9-day international festival for participants which will include;
– Festival performances by companies from the UK, Ireland and from all over the world
– Master classes and workshop sessions led by industry professionals
– An opportunity to examine the idea of ‘cultural leadership’, supporting the next generation of theatre makers.
– Discussions around pioneering practice and research as part of the symposia strand
A maximum of 20 places are available for participants. Accommodation, tickets and festival registration will be covered by the festival, participants will need to find their own airfare/travel. ASSITEJ may be able to offer some assistance with travel costs.
WEDNESDAY 30th SEPTEMBER 2015
For more information and how to apply click HERE
Attend ON THE EDGE 2016
One of the best ways to be involved is to attend the festival, meet people and have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the festival while creating strong, meaningful connections with artists from around the world.
To Register your interest in tickets or the festival, please complete the form here
To keep up to date with developments visit: www.ontheedge2016.com
We hope to see you in Birmingham 2016!
By Bryce Russell Alexander
Artistic Director, Phamaly Theatre Comapany
Denver, Colorado, USA
1. The BEST Wardrobe Malfunctions
In Phamaly Theatre Company’s 2006 production of The Wiz, blind actor Don Mauck had specialty eyeballs made for his role as the cowardly lion. The eyeballs had a distinctive cat feature, and often, on his way home from a show he would be told by his friends and family about the incredible looks he would receive from strangers passing by on the street.
During the final dress rehearsal for the production, one of Don’s eyeballs popped out of his head and rolled, slowly, toward the edge of the stage. If you’ve ever seen a group of people looking for a contact lens, you can imagine the hysterical eye-ball search that ensued.
The infamous story was an incredible stimulus for talkbacks in discussing and promoting accommodation, as well as allowing audiences whom were uncomfortable or unfamiliar with disability to laugh and connect – to humanize and de-sensationalize the aura of disability.
2. The UNCONSIDERED brilliant moments
I was in callbacks for our current production of Cabaret. Veteran actress Lucy Roucis has Parkinson’s disease, and I had asked her to read for Frln. Shneider using a side from the famous song “What Would You Do.” Lucy is an incredible actress. You may have seen her most recently as the comedian with Parkinson’s in the movie Love and Other Drugs (starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal). Despite her incredible talents, other directors have begun to throw Lucy aside because of her slowing speech patterns, and because her eyes have a tendency to droop.
Working with disabled actors continually, I knew that the centers for speech and singing happen to exist in different areas of the brain – and I knew her incredible acting skills would easily out-shine any pacing problems. But what happened next caught me entirely off-guard.
As Lucy continued to sing, she arrived at the heartbreaking lyrics, “Suppose simply keeping still / means you’ll manage until / the end. / Imagine if you were me.” The irony, the heartbreak, the emotion – not only was she talking about keeping still in Nazi Germany, she was talking about her Parkinson’s. She connected with Schneider on a level and in a way I had never even begun to imagine – in a way that any audience could understand and parallel.
The room was speechless. It seemed so obvious, but I had never even considered the possibility.
Her performance in ¬Cabaret is exceptional. She is able to explore her disability within the character to bring a depth like I’ve never seen in Cabaret before; and Lucy isn’t alone. It is incredible to see how the life experience of disability ALWAYS plays directly into the struggles of the character’s being portrayed – after all, in the end – struggle is universal.
3. The INCREASED specifics and consistency
Many people worry that with varying abilities their choreography, blocking, or even acting will become less specific and even unpredictable.
I have found the opposite to be true.
As a company comprised entirely of people with disabilities, it is not out of the ordinary to find a few deaf actors and a few blind actors within my cast. Knowing that these individuals, or other individuals with learning disabilities, need very specific cues – I find that the company as a whole works incredibly hard to make very specific, minimal, and consistent choices to help each individual succeed. Because of this simple fact, choreography tends to be sharper, the acting tends to have higher stakes, and the ability for consistent note application is unprecedented – as the actor analyzes each detail of the scene.
Can you imagine if more actors without disabilities worked this hard to support their cast mates?
There’s an old saying about the blind leading the blind – at Phamaly, we do it all the time.
4. The DEVOTION effect
There is a magnet in the humanity of disability in performance that attracts some of the most highly skilled, most fun to work with, and most passionate professionals in the industry.
With very few exceptions (due to retirements, etc…) for more than 20 years, Phamaly Theatre Company has had the exact same members of IATSE Local #7 working our productions at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
As a smaller arts organization, Phamaly performs at theatres across Colorado – but returns every summer to the Denver Center Theatre Company’s theatres while they are dark. The incredible members of the union look forward to – and go to extraordinary lengths – so that every Phamaly show is a success. Nothing is more rewarding than people helping people.
All organizations look for employees who will passionately and willingly devote themselves to each project on which they work – and Phamaly has garnered a true sense of community – not only among the performers – but among the staff and crew, as well. The fact that a local union has joined that community is a huge part of our success.
This sense of community elevates the art we produce, and it creates an environment that fosters a competitive and highly skilled workplace; one that bleeds directly into the audience experience.
5. The Power Through
All things are fragile when handled incorrectly. People are no different.
But when people with disabilities are given the basic accommodations they deserve, they are unbelievably resilient. Actress Ashley Kelashian has been diagnosed with Dercum’s disease. This rare disease is often listed as one of the most painful diseases known to man, and yet, Ashley performs with stunning capacity and enthusiasm.
But Ashley’s pain can escalate VERY quickly – and it doesn’t take a lot to trigger it. By providing Ashley a working understudy, she can be sure to sit and observe rehearsals instead of trying to work through the pain. She can take days off more often during the rehearsal process, and she can focus on being healthy.
At first glance, many people wonder why I would cast an actress who seemingly can’t handle the demands of the role. But the reality is different.
By empowering her to keep herself healthy, her performances are spectacular. She can devote herself fully to the role without worrying if she’ll make it through the rehearsal process. Inevitably, because the theatre is her only true escape from the pain, Ashley’s performances are powerful and moving. Truly wonderful art.
All it takes is a switch in your mindset. Empowering ANY performer is always the best option. The art will always be better. The same is true in the world of disability.
OK, Folks! Here’s the link to a story about an American who travelled to the UK in search of some accessible, innovative theatre:
Creating Theater for Young People of All Abilities
Inclusive theatre beyond the ghettos
by KATRINE GABB
Separate theatre initiatives for disabled artists are giving way to an integrated international movement for inclusive theatre.
Is there a world-wide movement towards access and inclusion in theatre?
That’s what it looks like to me, after attending the 18th ASSITEJ (International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People) world congress and Korczak festival in Warsaw, Poland.
As Access Officer at St Martins Youth Arts Centre in Melbourne my business is broadening inclusivity: making our theatre programs and audiences accessible for children and young people who; have a disability, are from a culturally diverse background or who experience social, economic or educational disadvantage. We proactively seek and include these kids in the opportunities St Martins offers.
St Martins had applied to go to Warsaw to showcase two projects; one was our Soundtracks project and the other was to run our Inclusive Theatre Practice workshop at the Warsaw Instytut Teatralny (Theatre Institute). Along with Alex Walker, one of the Associate Directors at St Martins, I attended several international shows for young audiences and seminars and workshops.
Daryl Beeton, Artistic Director of Kazzum Theatre in London, presented an engaging presentation about his life as a disabled artist, as well as a workshop offering some great inclusive exercises that clearly had the international participants thinking differently when they left the room.
He observed that his predecessors (artists with disabilities) were very hardline and highly political and they had to be to promote equality. But now a new generation of inclusive theatre practitioners is coming through, people who are connected by the desire to develop inclusive theatre and inclusive theatre audiences.
The change rang bells for me. Turn the clock back fourteen years: My artistic collaborator and partner Andrew Tranter and I are sitting in the office of The London Disability Arts Forum. The conversation is going swimmingly about the work the LDAF is doing and the work we do in Melbourne. Then, one of the artists we meet asks; “So, what disability have you got?” Andrew and I don’t identify as having a disability. We squirm. ‘Um, we don’t have a disability, we just, um, like inclusive theatre and art.’ Awkwardly, the conversation was wrapped up quickly.
I understand that people who are marginalized require separatism to create identity an to harness an important movement like disability awareness. I am cognisant and supportive of the; “not about us without us” sentiment. Yet, still, I felt sad that we couldn’t share the great stuff we were developing in Australia, because, although we worked inclusively, making hybrid visual art and performance works with artists with intellectual disabilities, we were not disabled people ourselves.
Disability is always a knife-edge away. Indeed, since then, I have acquired my own (according to the legal definition of disability at least). Ironically, this at a time when it appears there is a powerful movement rising from the arts sector about creating inclusion. This is a space where disabled artists and non-disabled artists can come together as inclusive theatre makers to generate inclusive audiences.
The other light-bulb moment that I experienced in Warsaw, was IIAN. IIAN stands for International Inclusive Arts Network. It’s an organisation in its infancy, dedicated to inspiring artists to be more ambitious and become a part of the inclusive arts community, promoting inclusive arts and international connections, sharing good practice and providing a data base of companies working inclusively around the globe.
Before we headed to ASSITEJ, my sense was that we were bringing something fairly unique. I had expected to be an anomaly. What I hadn’t expected was to find a community of people, who not only perceived the theatre world in a similar way to me and St Martins, but who had organised themselves into becoming a global force to address inequities in the international theatre sector.
IIAN has managed to formalise a partnership with ASSITEJ in order to develop the inclusivity of the festival as well as to operate as a resource for anyone wanting to work inclusively. It was a blast to meet Daryl who chairs IIAN, Talleri McRae from Stage One Family Theatre, Louisville, Kentucky, USA, Vicky Ireland from the UK and to hear from Boris Carksiran from Serbia and Laura from Berlin’s Ramba Zamba.
I’m happy to say I’ve been asked to become a core member of the organisation. So I urge all inclusive theatre practitioners – and not yet inclusive theatre practitioners -alike, to check out ILAN and email me. I will be hosting an IIAN event in upcoming months at St Martins Youth Arts Centre and I would love to welcome you.
About the author
Katrine Gabb is Access Officer at St Martins Youth Arts Centre in Melbourne.
View original article HERE
Daryl and Talleri met Kenjiro Otani, Director of Company MA (Japan) at the ASSITEJ festival in Warsaw.
They got into a discussion with Kenjiro his show With Two Wings, which addressed the issue of difference and disability through metaphor. Of course we asked him to write a short article for our blog which you can see below!
“Currently I’ve had opportunities to visit international theatre festivals for children and young audiences overseas several times a year, where I’ve attended international meetings, receiving a number of information about TYA from all over the world, as a board member of ASSITEJ International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People Japan Center. As a part of the association’s activities, there is a networking project for disability theatre arts, which we call “Inclusive Arts Network”. This network aims to include all people with all abilities (and disabilities) and to create all the artistic activities inclusively. Among its activities, theatrical activities for disabled children, with disabled children, and by disabled children. While such a movement and the idea that we do not separate activities by abilities and we consider different abilities we all have as our individualities are spreading in the world, I am hoping that the curriculum of the “special support class” will be acted upon the ideology similar to the inclusive arts’ movement. And I strongly hope that children will build their relationships by learning each other’s differences, accepting them, and supporting using each other’s abilities.
Theatre is art that appeals to imagination. Children as audiences can identify themselves with characters in a play, sympathize them, be offended by them, and imagine ‘what if I’m the character’ in a space different from everyday reality. We call such an imagination “positionality” which means that an audience can imagine, understand, and question about a character in a play without being the character. And this leads, in my opinion, children to think of others and I believe this is the power of theatre. And I hope we are able to help children be considerate even a little with their own imagination through this performance, “With Two Wings”.”
Kenjiro Otani, Director of Company MA (Japan)