By Nicola Bennett
The idea of taking audiences to a world beyond their own is a well established goal of live performance. Fortunately for theatre goers, this is a concept delivered in spades by Sensorium Theatre’s latest production, which engages its young audience in a unique intergalactic experience.
Whoosh! is a children’s theatre experience designed purely with its audience’s needs and preferences in mind, as the four-person space crew leads its small audience through a tailor-made interactive space adventure. Sensorium Theatre specialises in developing performances for children with multiple and complex disabilities, such as autism, children who require wheelchair access, and/or other additional special needs. Their performances eliminate common environmental and participation demands that may usually prevent some children from participating in a “typical” theatre-going experience. Instead, this space journey prioritises the individualism of each child in its delivery, embracing their environmental and behavioural preferences to deliver a first-rate example of genuine inclusivity through live performance.
Each child in the small audience (with a typical maximum of 14 participants plus a participating parent) is declared an official crew member for the upcoming space mission, skilfully manoeuvring through a narrative of exploration and adventure under the guidance of a small team of performers and supporting crew. The enthusiasm and commitment of both the cast and crew is palpable - every minute of the experience, from initial arrival and registration to the audience’s departure from their spaceship, is spent engaging participants with their theatre experience as much as possible. Participation is never pushed, only encouraged, with every attempt made to gently facilitate inclusion for those who may need a brief moment apart from the core hub of activity. The empathetic engagement of the Sensorium team with both children and their attending adults is beautiful to witness, as is their genuine passion for promoting inclusivity in the creative arts.
The actual performance by the four primary cast members is skilfully executed, with soothing harmonies and choreography having a mesmerising effect on their audience. The cast’s performances deserve additional recognition for the care and personalisation taken in their delivery, as their performance skilfully adapts to the children’s responses and behavioural needs. It is a defining characteristic of Sensorium Theatre’s performance - providing a setting for children to explore their own agency and to express their creativity, while being supported by the flexibility of a fully customised performance space.
The unique set design further encapsulates Sensorium Theatre’s consideration of its audience. The elaborate tent structure that forms the crew’s spaceship provides a portal to interactive space exploration, but leaves its door open for the children to come and go depending on their support requirements throughout the performance. The young crew interacts with a variety of activities within the spaceship and during a period of foreign planet exploration, with particular focus on providing various sensory experiences for the children. For some children with special needs, engaging with sensory stimuli in their environment can be a highly enjoyable activity, as their sensitivity to experiencing particular sights, sensations, sounds, smells or even tastes can enrich their understanding of the narrative at hand. The use of moderate lighting, sound effects and various tactile materials immerses the children in their experience at a deeper level and again exhibits the thoroughly inclusive mentality that permeates Whoosh! in all aspects of its performance.
It is a critical aim for live performance that its audiences feel a sense of joy and discovery from experiencing a world beyond their own. While Whoosh! does literally deliver a world beyond the confines of our own planet, its crowning achievement is that it goes out of its way to bring that joyful world to an audience that may have otherwise missed out. By removing the expectation that live performance has to be delivered a “certain way”, Sensorium Theatre opens up a universe of accessible possibilities for an audience ready to embrace everything on offer.
I wholeheartedly commend Sensorium Theatre and the team behind Whoosh! for successfully going where more theatres should have gone before. Whoosh! completes its run at the Arts Centre Melbourne before continuing to Sydney Opera House from 7-10th August.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.