Whoosh! at the Arts Centre Melbourne
Hop on board our custom-built spaceship, ready for blast off as we Whoosh!across the galaxy for an interstellar adventure. Young explorers with disability are invited to join our crew on a tour to outer space, taste space food, experience hyperspace and travel to the mysterious Planet X.
Whoosh! is an immersive and highly-tailored performance for children with a range of disabilities aged 5 – 10, including children with multiple and complex disabilities and children with autism.
Nicola spoke with the Artistic Directors of Sensorium Theatre, Michelle Hovane and Francis Italiano, about this fantastic initiative and why it's important to get young people involved in the arts. Read the full interview below:
Firstly, what makes Sensorium Theatre’s works different to your typical children’s theatre experience? What are the key considerations to be made when constructing these specialised shows?
We make multi-sensory work to give our audiences lot’s of “ways in” to the narrative. This means immersive installations and intimate audience sizes to allow space for each audience member to participate. Sensorium theatre works, have to balance presentation with interaction to tell the story. The fourth wall is completely dissolved and there is a tension between performance and facilitation. We have refined the balance of these two elements within our works over the past 3 shows. We have to consider how we can tailor the performance for every individual audience member. What is the child’s experience is a key question for us. How can our storytelling support their success to go on a theatrical journey. We have to consider the experience of audience members with sensory, and cognitive impairment and limited independent movement. How are the visuals telling the story? How can we limit the amount of language we are using? How is the sound containing and supporting the narrative arc? How can tactile experiences re-inforce and extend the experience of the story. What about smell and taste? So we have to give space to the individual journey of each audience member whilst still providing a strong collective experience.
Whoosh! takes the audience on an interactive space journey. The team of performers are responsible for engaging their participants in the adapted adventure that considers the possible sensory and environmental challenges that typical theatre settings may pose. What is the preparation process like for the performers in what may often be a highly unpredictable show? How does this influence the dynamics within the cast?
We spend a lot of time within the Sensorium Theatre ensemble building individual and group somatic awareness and connectivity. There are a few different strands to this preparation. A strong element draws from Michelle’s 25 years of somatic education with Melbourne based teacher Alice Cummins. From this place of somatic awareness we have built a shared language that enables us as a team to consider how we can warm up each day to achieve sensitivity and embodied presence within the performance. We refer to our “cellular membrane” and have a strong awareness of the connectedness of each other as well as an ability to face outward toward others. We work with both direct focus and strong peripheral awareness so that we can be completely present with an individual whilst retaining an awareness of the whole. Sometimes the “membrane” stretches in one direction and the challenge is to keep the shape of the performance – in this way we function very much as a team, pulling each other back into focus. Another strand comes from Frankie’s work with Teatro de Los Sentidos and the idea of “listening deeply” within the performance – what does the silence tell us??. Other strands are the more traditional improvisational skills, an ability to “toss the ball” quickly between each other and adapt to the unexpected.
What has been the most surprising thing to learn during your creative process as a directors when constructing these specialised types of performances?
Audiences with disabilities can handle more excitement and risk than one might think. We tend to think of adapting mainstream shows by toning down sounds and lights and making them less exciting or scary. This is not our experience – with the right context and preparation we can make bold and risky journeys together.
How do you perceive the current direction of inclusivity for all audiences in the theatre industry?
It’s definitely a conversation that is progressing. Perth Festival recently facilitated an inspiring and provocative conversation amongst local arts leaders with Caroline Bowditch from Arts Access Victoria. Caroline remarked that “leadership doesn’t appear out of thin air – it takes time and it takes a commitment of resources.” A number of venues are starting to grasp access measure such as relaxed performances, auslan interpretation and audio description. This is fantastic and changes the culture and expectation around access, but needs additional resources to become embedded into our performance culture. It’s not just about taking those measures – it’s also about engaging with those communities – this also takes time and human resources. We are making content specifically for audiences with complex needs or those who are the Autism Spectrum –that’s another step within the conversation. Every time we take our work on tour we are connecting venues with new audience and taking both the community and the venue staff on a journey. It takes a commitment to go the “extra mile” on the part of the venue.
What do you think production companies need to prioritise the most moving forward in terms of accommodating more complex audience needs, particularly for children who want to have these same experiences as their peers?
Thinking beyond traditional text-based and visual theatre. Opportunities to get up close to the performance, tailored resources and preparatory materials for those audience members with complex needs.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Too hard – I’ll give you three – F & M: Oraculos ( Teatro De Los Sentidos) F : Sleep no More ( ex-Punch Drunk) most recently – M : Michael Keegan’s Swan Lake
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Michelle: Ningaloo Coral Reef in Exmouth. Frankie: Barcelona
Dream show to create?
Every show are working on.
Plays or musicals?
Do we have to choose?
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Ocean related stuff – snorkelling and body boarding
What’s next for you after this show?
Collaboration!!! Our next 3 years we plan to work with Singaporean artists and UK companies Bamboozle and Frozen Light on 3 new projects.
Whoosh! is on at the Arts Centre Melbourne on June 29, 2019 for two performances only. You can get your tickets here.