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The benefits of using Sensory Theatre

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Francesca Tortora | 13:52 UK time, Thursday, 10 November 2011

Haringey Shed - one of the winners of our Young People’s Musical Theatre scheme - worked with Red Octopus on their project to help unlock the creative process of making a show, particularly for members with learning and/or physical disabilities.

Stephanie Tyrrell, Company Director at Red Octopus, tells us how incorporating Sensory Theatre in the project had a positive impact.

“Red Octopus works with children and young people – particularly those with additional needs, such as behavioural, physical or emotional – to help them engage in performance projects. Through the nature of this work, Red Octopus became interested in Sensory Theatre as a means to unlock the creative process and to lead to greater engagement from such groups.


The Red Octopus tent


Sensory Theatre is not a new concept – other groups such as Oily Cart and Bamboozle Theatre continue to do fantastic sensory projects – but its facilitation is still being defined.

This style of theatre is a way of capturing imaginations and focusing more on the atmosphere of a group and expressing emotions through lights, sound, textures, vibrations and smells. Imagine a storytelling workshop on a hot air balloon ride and suddenly it begins to rain, you feel it; the grass begins to glisten in the dew, you smell it. This form of storytelling allows children and young people of all abilities to belong to a creative process, to respond to it, to feel it and to be allowed a medium of responding with a deeper understanding.

Of course this type of work can only happen with great collaboration between groups. That's why Red Octopus was invited to work alongside Haringey Shed in their creative summer project where they worked towards the performance of Macbeth. This was a brilliant project, which combined their Youth and Children's Theatre in 3 weeks of devising, rehearsing and then performing at The Bernie Grants Arts Centre in Tottenham, London. The project continued throughout the riots of 2011, providing an excellent creative outlet and safe space for the children and young people of Tottenham.

Haringey Shed project in action


As well as having a fantastic pool of creative volunteers and practitioners, the project also had its own sensory room run by the Red Octopus team. The Sensory Room was a space for the participants to come to when needed and be allowed time to refocus in ways that suited them.  For some members of the project it allowed an area where, in their own time, they could rehearse what was happening in the main theatre, go over any lines, movements or practice their songs.  Also, as much as we could, we would input sensory elements into the main production so those who didn't feel comfortable delivering lines could be involved in other ways. These elements were also included to ensure a wider audience demographic and make the process and product more accessible.

I feel it is key that this type of work can continue and levels of engagement can be defined through Sensory Theatre. Too often productions created for children and young people with additional needs are 'dumbed down' to what is thought to be pitched at their level. The aim of Sensory Theatre is to provide high quality arts projects that are fully accessible, inclusive and engaging, whatever the participant’s ability or experience.

Sensory Theatre still needs to be defined into a well nurtured arts practice but in doing so, so many young people can engage in a creative development that is suited to them.”



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