Having never seen any theatre for this type of audience before, but having had it explained to me by Replay's Creative Director (Janice Kernoghan), I was excited to finally get to witness this very special and specific type of performance.
- A child's physical faculties - they may not be able to walk, or sit up unaided
- Their cognitive processes - it may take them longer to process information that other children their age
- Their communication - they may not be able to speak, or react in 'usual' ways to stimulus.
As such these audiences often aren't able to access traditional theatre experiences and the skill set required to work with them is very specialised.
The main tools of this kind of immersive theatre that I was expecting to see were:
- One to one performer/ audience interaction
- Kinaesthetic, visual, oral, aural stimulus
- Intensive Interaction - where the performer responds to the behaviour of the child
The 'play' takes place in a hydro-pool. Three actors, up to three children and a supportive adult for each child are in the pool. This allows each actor to focus on one child and gain the all important intensive interaction (something I will be learning about in greater detail later in the training year).
Janice Kernoghan had explained to me previously that Replay Theatre is about creating theatre that has at it's heart the experience for the audience member. In the rehearsal/ development stage the company look at the kinds of experiences they can create for their audience members, focusing primarily on what it is that gets a reaction. In this way, the 'play' differs from traditional theatre, in that the story is secondary to the experience. Oily Cart (leaders in this type of performance) would even say the story is unnecessary. As a storyteller this concept is foreign to me. So I was interested to see how Into the Blue would work.
It was a beautiful twenty minute piece of performance.
The children were brought into the pool, where the actors were waiting, dressed in full costume that reminded me of the type of thing you see at the Cirque del Soliel:. watery body costumes covered in swirls and different shades of blue. Certainly a treat for the eyes. The play began with beautiful harmonised singing as the performers honed in on their audience members and began to interact. Taking their cues from the children they played with the water, swirling it with their arms and lifting handfuls and letting it drip back into the pool. If the child was amenable to it, they let the water drip onto the skin of the child. The singing progressed into different soundscapes. At one point the performers got colanders and made waterfalls around the children. This progressed into pouring the water onto the children's skin. All the time continuing to sing beautiful harmonies. At one point they sang one child's name, whilst holding a mirrored ball up to the child's face. The children seemed to love this.
What I saw was complex simplicity. Although it it sounds as though they weren't doing much, the thought, input and focus was intense. The actors were completely tuned into the children, making sure that their experiences were at all times as relaxing and enjoyable as they should be. The harmonised voices created a magical environment, almost as if they were in the water with ethereal mermaids or water nymphs. Watching the children respond was a privilege and joy. Especially when I learned that most of the children coming into the pool had high levels of anxiety. You could see them unwinding during the performance.
Anna Newell, the show's director, had mentioned to me before the show that a question she can be asked is "what makes this theatre and not just a workshop." And it's a good question. The activities that make up the show could be similar to those used in a workshop and with the lack of a story/ narrative it would certainly push boundaries. She told me it was the environment created by the sound. The flow and the magic of the soundscape made this more of an immersive theatre experience/ performance, than simply a workshop. Anna mentioned that in workshops you might say: "OK and now we're going to..." which breaks the illusion of the journey and theatrical experience. Whereas in Into The Blue the sound continues throughout and the feeling of the experience having an 'end' was very clear.
Wikipedia defines Theatre as: a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers, typically actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place.
Into The Blue certainly did that. The real or imagined event may not have been clear to me - although I'm sure I could have asked if I needed to know what it was - but it was certainly an experience that was very real for it's audience members. And that, at the end of the day, is what matters in this type of performance.
Perhaps that is my first take away point - to always ask, What experience is the audience member getting from this?
Today has been fantastic start on my journey to understand the shape and techniques used for a performance for a PMLD audience. I look forward to learning, reflecting and engaging more over the coming year.
Into The Blue is directed by Anna Newell (former creative director of Replay) with Andrew Stanford (Replay's interim SENCo), Kerry Cleland, Doireann McKenna performing and music from composer David Goodall. They are touring Northern Ireland special schools throughout October and November 2016.