Last year I had the enormous privilege of writing a blog for the Theatre Royal Plymouth and Frozen Light about their last show ‘Home’ and I am delighted that they are now returning with their new production, ‘The Isle of Brimsker’. I watched ‘Home’ alongside some young adults and their families or support workers and essentially had my mind blown.
One of my own children had Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties. Sadly, she is no longer with us but for the time we had her she was always the life and soul of the family party. As with so many people with PMLD, she used a wheelchair and could not talk or care for herself. She loved music, wheelchair dancing and people. She also loved the theatre. When she was little we used to take her to the children’s shows in the Drum. Her wheelchair was small and manoeuvrable and because there were so many other children there, her noisy appreciation didn’t bother anyone. As she grew into her teens, things became far more complicated. Huge wheelchair, loud noises and the need to feed & change her became almost unsurmountable problems and gradually she could only go to ‘special’ events.
The show by Frozen Light was a complete revelation to me. These people really understood their audience. The story told would have been interesting to any theatregoer but it presented in a way accessible to every member of the audience. We all took something away from the show because it engaged every sense. It did not matter about wheelchairs or noise. We didn’t have to sit still but had free reign of the intimate space where the performance took place. The young people were all absorbed and their families could relax and enjoy sharing the experience, for once not having to be constantly aware. I confess my heart broke a little that I couldn’t share this with my own daughter but I would not have missed it for the world. I am in awe of the company who created this marvel and the Theatre Royal Plymouth for having the vision to host it. On behalf all the young people, their families, support workers and carers thank you for this gift of a truly shared and inclusive experience. May there be many more.Frozen Light were kind enough to answer some questions about their work and vision for the future. These are the responses:
I understand that your target audience are people with PMLD and know, only too well, that they are the least catered for audience. Do you not feel that other people who would benefit as much from your form of theatre?
I do feel that other groups might benefit from our form of theatre, but we very much make our shows with our audiences needs at the forefront of our development, so therefore every artistic decision is punctuated with the question, “does this work for our audience?” So, if it does work for other groups then that is great, but they are not necessarily who we made the work for. The exception to this rule I would say is audiences with profound autism, as often this is a group of people that do access our shows which really work for them.
As a company we have a massive commitment to our audience with PMLD as (as you noted) they are one of the least catered for groups of people, as well as being one of society’s most invisible groups. To us it is our most important mission to provide a theatrical offer for our wonderful audience. If other people contact us to say they would like to see our work we try and be as flexible as we can.
Have you ever had feedback from your shows that told of any changes in a person’s life or instances where they were included in other things more afterwards?
Often for our audience coming to see a Frozen Light show can be there first visit to the theatre (we make work for adults and young adults) and the first time they feel welcomed into a professional theatre building. We create a safe and relaxed environment where our audience can be themselves and experience and access theatre in a way that is relevant to them. What we have noticed with our shows is that we get huge numbers of returning audience. So, we often see our audiences year after year and what we notice is every time they return they are more and more engaged and relaxed. For example, when we toured our previous show HOME we had a teenager come who refused to enter the space, sat in the foyer and was fairly distressed. A few weeks ago we returned to that venue and this teenager came into the show and had a great time. He really engaged with all the sensory props, danced to the music and afterwards didn’t want to leave. Through opportunities offered again and again our audience are able to grow and have the enjoyable experiences every human deserves.
Do you run workshops for PMLD groups or those who work with them to spread the word about inclusion?
We have just developed an artist’s training programme which we will be rolling out in the new year to train and encourage other artists to think about making work for audiences with PMLD. The more we tour the more the demand for our work grows and we physically can’t reach this demand. Also, we believe that people with PMLD should have the opportunity to see other theatre made by other companies, just like we do. Therefore, we want to train artists in making this work so there is more provision for our audience.
We will also be working with universities to offer training for students to hopefully inspire the theatre makers of the future to think about making work for audiences with PMLD.