A multi-sensory storytelling project for special schools created by Peoplescape Theatre.
In partnership with National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark and Horniman Museums and Gardens.
Funded by the Arts Council
Peoplescape are a theatre education company working in London and Manchester. We work with all ages in schools, museums and community settings. Over the past 8 years we have been developing theatre projects in museums for children with special needs.
We aim to create theatre that is accessible to all, so we often limit our words, use music, sensory experiences. Our work is always interactive often with the children taking a role in the story. In this project we were also working with a composer and digital mentor.
Following our recent successful projects for special needs audiences at the Museum of London and ‘Welcome to Cottonopolis’ at the People’s History Museum, John Rylands Library and Salford Museum, we were delighted to be collaborating with three wonderful museums in South London.
All of the museums were very keen to develop their offer to special needs groups.
We wanted to find a way to link the museums’ collections in a meaningful way and create a single story which would be performed in each museum for special school audiences.
Company Play day and Focus Group
The project began in February 2015 with a company play day at the Horniman Museum – exploring style, theme, techniques. This was followed by a focus group workshop bringing together Peoplescape, the museums and local special schools. We shared ways of working creatively with children with special needs, possible ideas for stories, and worked through drama to engage with objects, characters and themes inspired by the museums. We also talked to the teachers about universal themes that were pertinent for their children.
We came up with a simple story – It is the late 19th Century. A 14-year-old apprentice says goodbye to his mum and boards a tea clipper for a voyage overseas.
Research and Development
We began a series of nine research and development workshops in three schools local to the museums. We worked with one class at each school. The groups were very different:
Year six high functioning children with ASD
Year one children with SLD and PMLD
Year four children with a variety of need: ASD, SLD and PMLD
Within these workshops we were able to try out ideas, themes and ways of working, including:
Storm Music created by the children
Call and response sea shanties
Multi-sensory objects and experiences e.g. wind created by sails, rope, tea, ice bags, UV fabric sea creatures
Different characters and moving in and out of role
Live video projecting of children whilst they were in role as sailors
Applied theatre techniques such as improvisation, thought tapping, forum theatre to explore the apprentice’s feelings about leaving home, the jobs he might do on the ship etc.
An interactive floor projection of the sea.
From the workshops we were able to find out what worked for all groups (e.g. the mum role and the emotion of leaving) and what didn’t (e.g. shadow puppets for children with visual impairments). Each group was also able to have a session in one of the museums. The children had ownership of the story and were able to contribute in their own way e.g. showing us their reactions to various digital and musical techniques, naming the main character ‘Tom’, choosing China as a destination for the ship, telling us their research about the harshness of conditions on board 19th century tea clippers.
All this work fed into our devising process where we shaped the ideas into an hour-long participatory performance.
Before each performance we visit each school to deliver an outreach workshop to introduce ourselves and some of the props, songs and characters. We are also able to gauge the needs of the children and pitch the performance appropriately.
The performance – Tom’s Ship of Stories
“Prepare the Ship to set sail”
“Haul the ropes and hoist the sails!”
“Are you ready for hard work? Scrub the decks!”
“I don’t think I’d like to eat a jellyfish for my tea!”
‘pack the tea and load the crates’
“I want the rain to stop, I want the wind to stop, I want to sleep”
“Tom is feeling sad…. I wonder if any of you can help?”
“very well thought through, addressing the auditory, sensory and visual needs of the audience”
“the whole performance was fantastic, children were extremely engaged”
“Lovely to come to something that was pitched at just the right level”
We are currently working on the next phase of the project. We’re working with the museums to develop their own sessions created specifically for special needs groups drawing on the techniques we’ve used in Tom’s Ship and the many things we’ve learned.
Definition of terms:
SLD – Severe Learning Disabilities
ASD – Autistic Spectrum Disorders
PMLD – Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (physical, learning & sensory impairments)
Photos © National Maritime Museum
Free showcase performance of Tom’s Ship of Stories, followed by discussion, at the National Maritime Museum on the 10th March, 3-5pm. Open to all those working in museums/theatre/education. Places must be reserved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org