Immersive play brings new hope to autistic, special needs children in Shanghai theatre

By Chen Xia, Yang Hui in Shanghai and Shan Jie in Beijing Source:Global Times Published: 2019/5/12 17:08:39 Last Updated: 2019/5/12 18:20:35

Four actors sing for an audience of children on the autism spectrum during the show Moon Song on April 28 at the Shanghai Children's Art Theatre. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

An actor sits on the floor with an audience of children, turning over a paper fish again and again.

On the other side of the stage, an actor throws a plastic bag into the air, and a boy blows it away.

These are not scenes commonly seen in theater plays. Storm, an immersive show for children with autism spectrum disorder, was performed by the Bamboozle Theatre from the UK in the Shanghai Children's Art Theatre (SHCAT) in late April.

In April, Bamboozle presented a total of 57 performances of three shows in Shanghai. Besides Storm, which is based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, Moon Song is also designed for children on the autism spectrum.

The third, the Gentle Giant, is designed for children who are described as having profound multiple learning disabilities.

A total of 342 families attended the shows, according to the SHCAT.

Since 2017, such shows have been held in SHCAT as a part of the "Wish of Starfish" project initiated by the China Welfare Institute. 

Ranran, 3, is diagnosed with autism. His father, surnamed Li, said that parents like him always feel lost. "We do not know how to help our kids join society," he told the Global Times.

Li said that every time he brings Ranran out, he is worried that the child will disturb other people.

During a performance of Storm on April 14, even though at the beginning Ranran sought comfort from his mother, after a while he began to enjoy the play.

The father of Lele, 4, told the Global Times that artistic resources for special needs children are rare in China. Since last year, Lele has been in love with the SHCAT and has come for shows every month.

"We keep the audience numbers very small. There are only six children in a show at a time," Nicole Arkless, an actress from Bamboozle Theatre, told the Global Times, "With a small audience that means we can interact and engage the children very directly."

The shows are immersive and interactive. The children are within the show, Arkless explained.

"We invite them [children] to engage if they want to," she said, "We don't force anybody to take part."

Bamboozle Theatre Company was founded in 1994 by Christopher Davies and Sue Pyecroft. Since then it has been delivering magical, memorable, multi-sensory experiences for children and young people with moderate to profound learning difficulties as well as those with emotional and behavioral difficulties, according to the official website of the British theatre.

Cao Yuwei, Associate Director of Programming at the SHCAT, said that in the past three years the theatre has received positive feedback through holding shows, master classes, workshops and forums. 

The plays activate children's autonomy, she said.

According to Cao, Down to Earth, one of Bamboozle's shows, has had a local version produced in Shanghai after it was performed in SHCAT. It has been performed by Chinese actors 22 times in three Shanghai schools.

An actress and an audience of children on the autism spectrum play with a plastic bag in Storm on April 14. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

An actress and a child member of the audience play with a pipe in Moon Song. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Parents and children play with a hammock during a performance of Storm. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

A child from the audience plays in a net during Storm. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

An employee from Bamboozle Theatre explains rules and gives tips to parents before the show Storm. Photo: Yang Hui/GT


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