This January, Geraldine Heaney and I were delighted to be invited to take part in the Theatre for Young Audiences Inclusive Arts Festival in Tokyo Japan. A big part of this was presenting our film ‘Frame’ which we made as part of an Imaginate artist residency, in collaboration with pupils from St Crispin’s School.
The film questions who has the right to make art? which the festival created conversation around, featuring artists, performers, audiences and participants with a wide range of diverse needs. It’s been a nourishing experience and so exciting to meet people from across the globe, all working towards a common goal of making the arts accessible for everyone. Highlights included meeting amazing Serbian inclusive dance company Per .Art, and watching two new sensory performances that are now being made in Japan for young audiences with disabilities.
It was also fascinating to start to understand the Japanese perspective, where the word ‘inclusive’ has not really been used to this point. In many ways, the 2020 Olympics have opened up this conversation and opportunity, as the London games did for the UK in 2012.
Our contribution began with a presentation about Sensory Theatre approaches, for local and international artists, researchers, educators and practitioners. We then hosted a workshop exploring our practices, including work with KOR! Records And Oily Cart.
We were both inspired by how easy it felt to communicate despite the language barriers, particularly when using a sensory approach. It’s made us think a lot about listening. Sometimes listening is through body language, eye contact or touch. Sometimes it’s about leaving space. In many ways its actually easier to listen more actively when you take away the ability to communicate through language.
Another fascinating aspect of the festival was being absorbed in the many different cultures, D/deaf and hearing. It was exciting to see a performance (‘What Goes Up’ by FTH:K) that had been translated from South African Sign Language into Japanese sign Language. It made us both think harder about how to open up our creative processes to performers and collaborators with different needs. I have always worked in a sensory/non-verbal way, so until this point has not learnt British Sign Language… looking to the future, it made me question if this is adequate?
Our final contribution was an installation, presenting ‘Frame’ in an interactive way. A group of nursery children collaborated with us to cover a small room in paper. We then projected the film onto it. This was the first time we had shown the film to a young audience and we were excited by the reaction. As the pupils in the film (who are all labelled as having profound autism) are older, it gave them power and status. This sparked lots of ideas for new contexts of showing this work in the future, especially after discussions with programmers about how film/installation may be an accessible performance format for young people with complex needs to allow them to be visible at international platforms. The white room stayed open during the two days so that children and adults could cover it in colourful dots and lines, helping build the art work.
It was great seeing people create and play. Children understood the invitation immediately and adults who appreciated being given the permission. The response to the installation and film was brilliant, lots of inspiring conversations and some really exciting creations made in the room.
We now continue our travels in Japan to explore sensory music, noise and listening experiences. More on this soon!
Huge thanks to Imaginate and St Crispin’s School, particularly the young artists in the film, who we wish could’ve been there with us to show off their work. Thanks to TYA Inclusive Arts Festival, especially Kenjiro and Kaori. Finally thank you to Creative Scotland, and The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, without whom the trip would not have been possible