An image of White Peakcock by Gill Brigg.

Creating new worlds for autistic young people

Posted on 24 October 2016

No one should be excluded from taking part in art and culture, which is why Nottingham Playhouse created a specially designed, touring micro-theatre for children with autism, and profound and multiple learning difficulties. We supported the Playhouse to team up with an academic researcher to produce two new multi-sensory plays for this unique pop-up space. The tour offered young people and their companions around the country an entertaining and enjoyable experience.

White Peakcock by Gill Brigg. Image © Nottingham Playhouse / Robert Day

Going to the theatre can leave you on an emotional high, feeling entertained and inspired. But for people with autism and learning difficulties, a trip to the theatre can have the opposite effect. Instead, it can be anxiety inducing and result in sensory overload.

Because Nottingham Playhouse’s micro-theatre can be set-up inside schools, community centres or theatres, it offers a safe environment that people can easily take time out of if they need a break, unlike a large auditorium full of people. 

Inside, flexible seating can be changed to meet the needs to each audience, accommodating day beds, wheel chairs and standing frames alongside sturdy stools, chairs and beanbags. This means anyone can pull up their own pew and watch the show.

Working with Dr Gill Brigg, and supported by our funding, the artistic team at Nottingham Playhouse created White Peacock and Wave.

White Peakcock by Gill Brigg. Image © Nottingham Playhouse / Robert Day

Everything about these multi-sensory productions was designed to make the experience of going to the theatre easy and enjoyable, from the pre-show information and welcome to the props, music and lighting.

Social stories introducing the company were sent out to the young people’s carers and pre-show visits to the venues were available. Before taking their seats, the young people were already familiar with the cast, the building and the show, reducing the anxiety of visiting somewhere new.

To take away the pressure of needing to be quiet or leave the performance, the Stage Manager welcomed the audience to move around, talk and vocalize, or have their medication or feeds throughout the show.

Both performances included opportunities for sight, sound, touch and smell and taste, so all of the props were crafted from non-toxic materials durable enough to be handled by people with poor motor control or great strength. Makaton signing was also used to make the plays engaging and understandable.

White Peakcock by Gill Brigg. Image © Nottingham Playhouse / Robert Day

We supported Nottingham Playhouse to make and tour White Peacock and Wave with funding from our Strategic Touring programme. A fund aimed at making great art and culture accessible to more people in England. 

In 2014, the plays were performed at Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester, The Birmingham REP, Hull Truck, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, The New Wolsey in Ipswich, Plymouth Theatre Royal and Oakfield School.

When can you come back?

Talking about the benefits of the micro-theatre for her pupils, one teacher said: “The company coming to us allowed students to access theatre who usually aren’t be able to do so.”

The micro-theatre will now be used for two new tours in 2016 and 2017.