Working with older pupils
"Over the next few weeks we did our research and developed a show for the whole school. The staff had told us that the young people would benefit from a performance much longer than our 45 to 60 minute average. We ended up creating a show that lasted the whole school day and in making it discovered the huge range of abilities and the very varied personalities there are in a special school.
"The more you work with people the greater the understanding on both sides, theatre makers and carers and educationalists. A lot of it is about accepting people as they come to you. You can see this in the way that mainstream theatre now stages occasional “relaxed performances” where audiences are not necessarily expected to sit still and quiet and watch and listen. We certainly have to make our shows for a very different audience. Individuals in the same audience can range from the very still and uninvolved to those who rush around and we want to engage them all.
"The babies under two make up an audience of 15 children, each with an adult—it’s partly about getting the mum, dad or carer to play with the child—that’s what we want to leave behind after the show. With the autistic audience it again very much involves the adult but it is a much more intensive form of interaction.
"Babies are neo-typical children but incredibly sharp: they pick up on things and are ready to have a go. With the other guys it takes longer to make contact, to get the doors open, so we work with audiences of only six (each with a carer) and three performers. It would be best if it was one to one but one to two makes better economic sense.
"They all benefit from multi-sensory work, but also being able to play with individuals, to have close-up, one-to-one interaction. As you’ve seen in the show today, we work with all the senses: sound, sight, touch, smell and movement. We aren’t telling a story but there is a shape, an arc, to what we create and it is all very, very carefully structured.
"Each episode of heightened experience is explored then gently come down from, literally with a breath exhalation that all the performers shape together. Sometimes they know when just from working together but often the cue is given by the musician, in this show George Panda. When not interacting with an individual he has an easier view of what is happening all round. They may have to spend a little longer with one child to get him or her to share the experience but timings tend to be surprisingly the same.