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Sensory Circus - Gerry's Studio 14 - 23 Dec

We’re FEEL Theatre and this is our first official blog post. How exciting!

Today we are going to be talking about our latest show Sensory Circus and about ourselves, how we came together and the drive behind what we do...

FEEL Theatre was founded by Erika Noda, Natalya Martin, Philippe Oodian and Mark Woodhouse in 2015. Today FEEL Theatre consists of lead directors Natalya Martin and Erika Noda who help develop, fund and manage multiple shows, events and workshops for the company. Philippe Oodian is co-artistic director of our show Sensory Circus, and works alongside Natalya and Erika. Mark Woodhouse is very much still a strong supporter of our work but has been travelling to Germany and Japan over the past year on a very exciting theatre tour! We also work with many other associate artists who help us run fantastic workshops and are involved in our shows. FEEL Theatre has worked with a number of schools and organisations in London and Essex including artsdepot, and we are currently running the Mighty Mega session at Discover Children’s Centre in Stratford.

We formed as a group in October 2015 whilst training at East 15 Acting School with our shared vision to create sensory work with and for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD).

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During our time at East 15 we gained experience in a host of areas and picked up loads of incredible skills; puppetry, puppet making, devising, circus, arts administration and workshop facilitation to name a few. It is also where we started facilitating drama workshops for young people with SEND and PMLD. All of this incredible training gave us the knowledge and skills we needed to set up our own theatre company (that and a generous grant from the University of Essex). Over the course of the last 2 years our lives have consisted of a whole heap of passion and self-motivation to get FEEL Theatre to where it is today. We are doing what we love and we will make our visions of the future come true through hard work and a positive attitude. “We can do this!” is something we tell each other and ourselves on a regular basis because we know we CAN do this, and... so we are.

After completing our first multisensory community play in May 2016 as part of our final project at East 15 we were then invited to come back to the school we had been working with. We were so excited to do so and spent the entire Autumn and Spring term with them. This was when we started running workshops specifically for young people and children with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) and when the sensory circus seed was planted. Sensory Circus was an idea that sprung to mind while Natalya was sitting on the bus on the way to a workshop. Inspired by previous workshops we had been running with a class of children and young people with PMLD at a local school, Sensory Circus has been a collaboration of thoughts and ideas from each of the team over the last year.

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Sensory Circus is a wonderful, visual journey, following the story of an alien called Neo who, while reading the morning paper, decides to go on a trip to Planet Circus. The performance and sensory play session aim to help develop visual perception, concentration, visual tracking and focus. FEEL Theatre’s latest show ‘Sensory Circus’ is a different and fun form of theatre where the audience can get involved too. Sensory Circus is a UV and LED glow performance, combining circus and puppetry followed by a sensory play session, created for children and young people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (age guidance 7 -18) and is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

We decided that we wanted to make Sensory Circus a show that focused on a specific element of the senses and development of young people with PMLD. Throughout the process we were continuously making sure we were sticking to the basics of what we knew we wanted to achieve and what would be beneficial to young people with PMLD. We knew that we wanted to use Sensory Circus to specifically help develop and engage in the areas of focus, concentration, visual tracking and visual perception. Simple and effective is what we wanted. We then came across a fantastic book by Joanna Grace called Sensory Stories; this book cemented our aims and feelings about creating a piece like Sensory Circus.

“A strong visual experience could be something that impacts your whole vision, it need not be complicated… things with high contrast, for example, bright lights against dark backgrounds… will naturally draw the eye and be strong visual experiences. Moving items may also draw the eye more strongly than static objects, as the sensors in our eyes that pick up on movements are different to those that record colour and shape. Some individuals may find it easier to perceive a moving object than a static one.” -  A quote from ‘Sensory Stories’ by Joanna Grace.

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Not only did we want to create a show that helped develop focus, concentration, visual tracking and visual perception; we wanted it to be interactive, which is why the structure of Sensory Circus is half show, half sensory play session. The structure of Sensory Circus has been met with great enthusiasm following previous performances. The sensory play session is a time for the young people and their companions to be free, have fun and connect with us and each other. In the sensory play session we get to explore and play with different UV reactive toys and glow toys. It is important for us to interact directly with our audience, to make them feel at ease. On top of this, we have made it our aim to ensure Sensory Circus is not like a traditional theatre experience where the performers and the audience are separated. We begin the experience by personally welcoming all members of the audience and their companions, giving them glow sticks to hold on to throughout the show. Building trust is so very important and it is vital that our audience members and their companions are made to feel comfortable, before, after and during the show.

Our ambitions for the future are big and bold! We hope to have the chance to tour Sensory Circus to schools, community centres and hospices across Essex and London; continue to develop exciting, new work; and expand our pool of associate artists and performers. Thinking outside the box is so important to us, and we hope to continue to create new and innovative work that is accessible and benefits children and young people with SEND and PMLD.

Sensory Circus, a show for young people with profound multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) at Gerry’s Studio, Theatre Royal Stratford East. Book NOW.

To arranging a group visit or school trip, please contact Daisy Hale at dhale@stratfordeast.com

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