Guest blogger, Producer and UPN member – Kitty Parker, writes about her involvement with the latest tour of ‘Wave’ (an adaption of the Tempest, for audiences labelled as having profound and multiple learning disabilities). This project was produced in collaboration with Tell Tale Hearts theatre company; written by Gill Brigg and directed by Natasha Holmes.
Wave, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, transports us to the sights, sounds, atmosphere and smells of the island where Miranda lives with her Dad. The two are happy here, even when the rain pelts down and the gales blow, but Miranda wants to leave now to be with her boyfriend. Dad doesn’t want her to go.
Miranda—spirited, loving, and wise beyond her years—is our contact character in the play, but it’s Dad’s story in many ways. We see his angry reaction when she tells him about her boyfriend, how moved he is by the book of memories she makes for him, and how sad he is when she leaves. It’s always too soon for a father to let his daughter go, but he helps her anyway.
The play is a wonderfully moving and life-affirming experience, which I shared with six young people with profound autism and six companions from their school. One young man was to be kept separate because of challenging behaviour, and another was thought unlikely to stay in the theatre for long. But both were engaged from the start and within minutes were taking part happily, exploring the island and the things they found there. Other students, who went into the theatre with precautionary fingers already jammed into ears, began to relax even though the music and soundtrack swelled to intense levels at times.
The most joyful moments included a young man tenderly holding Dad’s hand as he cried after waving off his daughter in her boat, and then delighting in dancing with him when Dad heard the news that Miranda was well and happy. The student whose behaviour was deemed potentially risky gently placed his paper boat into the sea at the end.
Shows like Wave look deceptively simple. It’s easy to underestimate just how much experience, skill, knowledge, and sheer artistry goes into engaging profoundly autistic young people so well that they’ll choose to stay inside a dark, noisy, crowded tent for nearly an hour with a bunch of people they don’t know. Not only stay, but enjoy staying: engaging with the story, showing deep empathy with the characters, and taking delight in surprises and sensory experiences that many usually find challenging.
It’s also easy to forget how long it took us to get to Wave. Without the five years Gill Brigg spent on her PhD research into how to make theatre for audiences with complex needs – not to mention the preceding years of partnership-building that enabled her collaborative doctoral programme to happen at all – and the subsequent work by committed arts organisations such as Nottingham Playhouse and Tell Tale Hearts to build up a touring network, we’d be in a very different place indeed. As it is, we have a solid research base underpinning our practice that allows artists to launch their imaginations and do their magic, and a growing number of theatres wanting to engage with the work.
So hats off to Tell Tale Hearts for their determination to take Wave on a wider national tour, to Natasha Holmes for her sensitive and playful direction, to Gill Brigg for her beautifully judged script and for creating the concept of the touring micro-theatre, to Nottingham Playhouse for originally producing Wave and for supporting this revival, to all the schools and theatres that took the risk of booking it, to Arts Council England for funding the project without questioning the concept of a play for an audience of 12, and to performers James Austin Harvey, Phoebe Kemp and Matt Marks, and gifted facilitator Ali Murray, for delivering a fabulous show. More proud of you all than I can say.
By Kitty Parker, 2016