Idea: Devising a sensory performance for children with disabilities to experience the magic of the arts
Primary artistic medium: other
I am a teaching artist and director based in Philadelphia, PA. My first introduction to working with children with disabilities was at an organization in my hometown of New Jersey called Friendship Circle. Friendship Circle works to provide friendship experiences for children and adults with disabilities through various events that they hold including summer camp, friends at home, and also art classes at their building. I volunteered in high school with their summer camp each year and was paired with a young boy named Louis. Louis communicated in other ways other than speaking, and I was also to form a connection with him through the repetition of songs. This was my first time using the arts to specifically form a bridge of communication.
Once moving to Philadelphia, I got in contact with Philly Friendship Circle and became a theatre and dance facilitator for them at their Sunday circles, teaching groups of children with disabilities. I also work for ArtistYear AmeriCorp at Hunter Elementary School with the various multiple disabilities classrooms and provide music/theatre/creative movement classes. I use puppets in my classes and the children love them. They talk, sing, and laugh with them! At the beginning of each class, the kids are asking for the frog puppet or the other puppets that I bring. Puppetry is such a great way to introduce children to the arts, and the kids truly believe in the magic of the puppets being real.
I also bring in props- which has been very exciting to tap into this mode of sensory theatre using fabric to create wind and waves, and music to bring stories to life. After a few weeks of visiting these classrooms, the teacher told me that the students are starting to sing the songs when I am not there and they are remembering the puppets and their names which is amazing to hear.
Philly Children’s Theatre’s mission is to provide theatre experiences to children who are being underserved regarding the arts. There is no other organization in Philadelphia that is working to create sensory theatre experiences for children with disabilities, and I know that these children deserve to see a play and to discover the magic of storytelling in a space that invites all that they bring. There will be no lights going down, no shushing, no worries of a kid moving around, no worries of a kid talking or yelling. Having the kids experience the space in a way that is most comfortable to them is the invitation for the experience. The whole child is invited.
My idea is to create an original sensory theatre piece with Philly Children’s Theatre that surrounds the four seasons and puppets. This piece will be devised with a group of performers and creative artists and will tour around various locations in the spring- the intended audience is children with disabilities and their families. The play will follow two puppets, (Fuzzy Wuzzy and Lollihops) as they learn about the seasons for the first time. The play will be multi-disciplinary and interactive including artwork (that the children will make), poetry, music, singing, dance, and puppetry. There will be sensory experiences including water, wind, leaves, sand, and fake snow. The bear character, Fuzzy Wuzzy, is lost on the day his family goes into hibernation in the Poconos. He experiences winter for the very first time all by himself and is very scared! Meanwhile, our frog friend in the Poconos, Lollihops, gets separated from her frog family! Fuzzy Wuzzy and Lollihops go off looking for their families and end up meeting, becoming friends, and making their way to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, they experience all of the seasons over a year. Once it is winter again, Fuzzy Wuzzy finds his family and is able to go into hibernation with them and Lollihops finds her family at the pond. They go back to where they live, knowing more about the seasons, nature, and friendship than before.
The play will include interactive sensory experiences. For example, in the fall season, the children could do a leaf rubbing with a crayon and a leaf. In the summer, each child, who would want it- will get a little bit of water poured into their hand. There will be singing and dancing with egg shakers, and performers who play instruments. The puppets will teach songs. Even though this is a performance, it will also be more like a creative drama/ music/ dance workshop that engages not only the children but also their families in a multidisciplinary sensory experience. The play will take the audience on an adventure from the Poconos to Philadelphia and will include landmarks like the Schuylkill River and the Liberty Bell. Having Philadelphia as a key part of the experience is important because the children are part of the Philadelphia community and it is important to see one’s lived experience reflected. I am planning to partner with various organizations in Philadelphia that work with families with children with disabilities so that this performance is another offering for these families, among the incredible work that organizations in Philadelphia are already doing. In addition to devising the production with our performers, it is always important to me to include members of the community that the piece is being made for in the creation process. Philly Children’s Theatre will provide workshops themed around the show to see what is sticking with the children and what is not. This way the piece is not just being made for the children and families but is being made with the children and families.