Author Archives: Upfront Performance Network

About Upfront Performance Network

Upfront Performance Network was started in 2015 to help support, inspire and connect artist's making theatre for and with people with learning disabilities and complex needs.

Inclusive Music/Noise-making in Japan, by Geraldine Heaney

Inclusive Music/Noise Making in Japan

In January 2019, Scottish artists Geraldine Heaney and Ellie Griffiths travelled to Japan to explore inclusive music approaches. Geraldine co-runs KOR! Records, that create experimental music projects for young people with additional support needs and releases their output. Ellie makes sensory performances for and with young people with complex needs, in which live music is a key component. The trip was funded by Creative Scotland and supported by Independent Arts Projects.

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One of the things that helped us work out our journey around Japan was an invitation to join a workshop with The Otoasobi project. Every second Sunday they meet in a small room in Kobe, stuffed full of instruments with just enough space for all the musicians, parents and facilitators.

We joined in with a session which meant improvising with instruments, language and communication. It was so exciting to be part of the workshop. The Otoasobi project have been running for 13 years.

6 year ago they toured to the UK playing gigs in London, at Cafe Oto, and Glasgow, at the CCA. It was great to hear about the Scottish connections with, what is now Sensatronic Lab, and Sonic Bothy.

When I heard about this gig 6 years ago, it was one of the inspirations for two friends and I to start KOR! Records so it was amazing to meet the musicians, families and facilitators.

KOR! Records run workshops with similar intention and focus in Scotland so it was great to see the similarities and differences in our methods of working. Allowing the musicians in the group to have total control of the noise they are making but also offering facilitation, suggestion or conducting to produce different sounds, textures or combinations. I really enjoyed seeing the focused improvisations at the end of the session, where just 3 or 4 members of the group improvised together with everyone else as attentive audience. I got a sense of which musicians have been part of the group for a long time and have developed an obvious practice of listening.

One of the biggest differences between the sessions we run with KOR and The Otoasobi project session was the presence of parents throughout the workshop. It was great to see parents so engaged. They watched on as if attending any other gig. Sometimes the parents actively join in with the noise making in the sessions though not in the workshop we were part of. You can see clips from the Otoasabi workshop we took part in here.

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When we were talking with Yui, who leads the group, and Ali, a collaborating musician/facilitator, after the session it was great to hear them reflect on how they have operated over the last decade. There are a whole host of guest musicians and facilitators that work with the group in a multitude of different ways. I think this open minded, experimental, respectful and interested attitude is part of what has kept this project so exciting and inspiring.

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Yui, leader of the Otoasabi Project

Thinking about these attitudes reminded me of the crossover between DIY Arts Culture and A Disability Arts Scene. A willingness to try, experiment, fail and learn are key. There’s also a frustration where these 2 worlds are forced to go in different directions, sometimes the needs of disabled artists means that this DIY sensibility can be another barrier to face. In both Japan and Scotland there are so few physically accessible venues (especially small scale, experimental venues). And I’ve been thinking a lot about how we (society) talk about learning disabled people (specifically artists/musicians) there’s so much labelling and a lot of ‘they’ in quite an othering, potentially patronising way. But then austerity and cuts to funding are affecting people who are so often invisible or under represented. So to try and create visibility organisations are forced into talking about the work they do in ways that have specific narratives. I feel these narratives can sometimes undermine the work or force it into a hierarchy that it doesn’t want to subscribe to.

We’re so much more comfortable using the ‘social model of disability’ with physical barriers because the ‘reasonable adjustment’ that needs to be made is often practical rather than social.

This blog is maybe just starting to try and scratch the surface of some of my thinking around these things. I want to have more conversations with more people to keep learning and keep thinking. There are so many great people and organisations who are talking about these things, let’s try and keep these conversations on the micro and the macro. Let’s talk to our local venues, promoters and organisations and let’s keep following exciting projects making change around the world.

Here’s a few of the people inspiring me at the moment:

www.musicallscotland.uk

www.hearmymusic.org.uk

www.heartsminds.org.uk

www.touretteshero.com

www.heartnsoul.co.uk

www.gigbuddies.org.uk (and Scotland)

www.stayuplate.org

www.attitudeiseverything.org.uk

www.reasonstobecheerful.world

 

If you have any comments, or questions please get in touch with me:

geraldine@kor-records.co.uk

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Geraldine and Ellie with some of the Otoasabi creative team

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Sensory Listening in Japan

In January 2019, Scottish artists Geraldine Heaney and Ellie Griffiths travelled to Japan to explore inclusive music approaches. Geraldine co-runs KOR! Records, that create music projects for young people with additional support needs and releases their output. Ellie makes sensory performances for and with young people with complex needs, in which live music is a key component. The trip was funded by Creative Scotland and supported by Independent Arts Projects.

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Ellie and Geraldine

This research aimed to open up new, accessible ways of making and experiencing live music. Both artists were keen to embrace non-normative music cultures and practices that have the potential to widen out who is at the centre of the work. Although working in different ways, both artists are passionate about the power of music to create spaces where people can be listened to and express themselves authentically.

Japan is the a global centre for experimental and noise music, making it an ideal setting for this research. Referred to broadly as ‘Japanoise’, there’s a rich history of music here that has developed an expansive tonal palette to include abrasive textures, feedback, object noises, field recordings and even silence. Artists working in this way such as Boredoms, C.C.C.C. and Hijokaidan have gained huge cult success in the last few decades and strong international followings.  

Here the artists talk about their time in Japan…

EG: On this trip, I wanted to open my ears. Since being a teenager I have had fairly set music taste that is largely restricted to rootsy, acoustic music. I’m slightly sound sensitive so tend to seek out low intensity listening experiences. In my work with young people who have profound autism, I have noticed a strong interest in object noises and have made the connection before between this and the work of Japanese artists such as Rie Nakajima. I notice many young people I work with seek really high intensity sound experiences. One parent told me how her son likes to go home after school, shut the curtains, take his clothes off, turn the lights out and listen to thrash metal music full blast. In terms of access, this is never what is imagined when making work for autistic audiences. This makes me keen to expand my musical horizons so I can make work that is engaging for a wider variety of people and preferences.

GH: We visited a range of venues: Small scale live houses with incredible lighting rigs, longstanding venues, repurposed Japanese houses, tiny cafes and the 100-year-old Guggenheim House that has become an established music venue, community hub and home. We attended a range of gigs: Noise, Punk, Experimental Improvisation, Melodic composition, Classical guitar and live music for children. We heard stories of: connections to Scotland, community projects, plans for adventure, ideas for establishing community, traditional tales, musical explorations, cultural differences and human histories. There’s so much to process and so many experiences that I know will take a lot longer to understand the full impact on my work and my thinking.

EG: A highlight for me was going to a noise gig by Endon, and also seeing experimental musician PHEW at Superdeluxe (the venue Café Oto in London was inspired by). Both are performances I wouldn’t have usually chosen to go to, but I found both utterly compelling. The vibration through the floor, the beat that feels stronger than your heartbeat at times, the mesmeric quality of having your whole body absorbed in sound. These were the sort of gigs you would never get my audiences at, and yet they were so sensory! I liked how having the focus of listening made us more sensitive to sounds that appeared in our everyday experiences. Japan is a noisy place in many parts. It was a great way to absorb this new culture, and fed into our thinking about active listening.

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GH: Improvisation was a theme in our trip. We saw a lot of brilliant improvised music. This can be  a naturally inclusive approach without the structures or rules of more classical or prescribed forms of music.  (more about this and meeting the inclusive improvisation collective Otoasobi Project in the next blog). We also improvised our journey around Japan. We took risks on things we didn’t know much about, took advice from locals and made changes to our plans to respond to what was happening. We missed trains and had to find new directions to go in. There’s a lot more to think about in terms or sound, noise, listening, inclusion, disability and connection.

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You can hear and see some short sound highlights of the trip here.

20190117_112307 (2)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.

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Moment from ‘Dancing in/with White Books’ by Theatre Planning Network

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.

sensory workshopWe 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?

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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.

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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.

You can see a bit more of what we got up to here

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

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Playful Tiger Tour: Guest blog by Jade Adamson

Playful Tiger, which has been made with and for for young audiences who are profoundly autistic and mainly non-verbal, is proving to be both one of the most exciting shows I have been involved in as a performer and one of the most challenging. It’s exciting because as much as the show’s structure is set and there are strict choreographic rules, we have permission and are encouraged to deviate and interact when any little (or big) tiger enters the stage and they become included and involved in the story as it unfolds. Each curious tiger brings so many new possibilities and surprises to the performance, keeping it fresh and meaning that every show is a different experience, for both audience and performer.

This, perhaps, is what also makes it challenging…the unknown. Quite a lot of unknowns. Not necessarily negative but that anything is possible. We have to remain alert and tuned in to every person in the room as well as each other, and remind ourselves to trust our instincts when giving and receiving communication in ways that are non typical. We have to nurture trust quite quickly from an audience who haven’t met us before, and many of whom have never been to the theatre before. We also have to constantly take risks, in the moment, without knowing the outcome. At first, and during the research, having to be responsible for all of the above could be overwhelming at times, a bit of a mind squeeze, but it’s becoming easier as we bag more shows and I’m starting to really thrive on it.

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When it comes to the audience, there isn’t really anything, within reason, that’s not allowed. It feels like an open space where there is complete artistic freedom on their part. I’ve noticed some particular personality types so far in how people choose to interact, all equally as valid as each other, we have…

-the fearless performer – who gets on stage pretty quickly and doesn’t hold back

-the quiet observer – watching mostly from the sides and interacting subtly

-the vocal observer – watching mostly form the sides and sharing sound interactions

-the win over – hesitant at first but totally on board by the end

-the not in the mood get me out of here – to be honest this hasn’t been a thing yet, but it’s entirely fine if it is. We wouldn’t be offended.

I’m really enjoying sharing the stage and the performance with our Playful Tiger audiences. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from all who have experienced it, which is not only humbling and great to hear but it also highlights the lack of opportunities for this kind of audience. I’m really excited to see what develops from here, and imagine what the future of theatre and dance could look like when we recognise more barriers so that we can work towards breaking them.

Jade Adamson

Photos by Jassy Earl

 

SINNERLIGT: Making a Sensory Exhibition

“Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.” 

Margaret Atwood

SINNERLIGT is a commission by Scen:se, a multi-disciplinary project pioneered by the very brilliant Eva Von Hofsten, to bring accessible art and performance to Sweden. Making work for neurodiverse audiences is one of the areas of inclusivity that Sweden are actually a bit behind the UK on. Visual artist Laura Blake and I are collaborating to make an inclusive sensory exhibition, which will tour galleries in Sweden, linked in theme to a sensory theatre performance called ‘The Beach’, which will tour to the same cities. This is a clever way of allowing neurodiverse audiences to prepare themselves for the theatre visit in a less time-pressured way, while also creating an original artwork within its own right. More and more I see the value of durational arts experiences for audiences who are by nature not predictable.

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Sculptural Tapestry by Laura Blake. Photo by Tina Umer

It has been exciting to explore the cross over between craft with performance. I am really enjoying going deep into our shared fascination with materials. We have been inspired by reading about sensory neuroscience and the architecture books of Juhani Pallasmaa, especially The Eyes of The Skin. Laura’s attention to quality and the tactile properties of each material we use has made me far more aware of what we place in front of our visitors. As a maker Laura is also used to working intuitively, through her hands. As someone who can tend to be quite cerebral in a creative process, relying a lot on talking, this has opened up to me a much more sensory making process, where we literally feel our way, relying on sketching rather than words to communicate our ideas.

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Laura and Ellie

I am also enjoying creating a performative space that does not rely on performers to animate it. It feels refreshing to focus on all the scenographic elements without putting the audience under any pressure to interact with people they have only just met.

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We want the exhibition to be as accessible for as many different people as possible, working with ideas of rich inclusion or universal design. Unlike exclusive, specialised performances, I am excited to make a space that families who have a child or adult with additional support needs can enjoy together. Sensory work equals the playing field and strips back to the source, to what is deeply human.

One of the best aspects of this project so far has been working with the McMillan family. Thea and Ian are architects. Their daughter Greta is an artist who has profound disabilities. She paints using eyegaze technology (Tobil). Greta uses her eyes to control her ipad to communicate and make art and also to make music (with Drake Music, a brilliant organisation in Scotland). Greta, Thea and Ian co-designed their house in Portobello, Edinburgh: The Ramp House , which is a fully accessible house and also beautiful, elegant design. I went to Greta’s exhibition and saw her painting ‘Staffin Beach’, which she painted while on a visit to the Isle of Skye.

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Staffin Beach by Greta McMillan

This picture is so evocative of the wildness and sensory experience of that landscape, that it made made us imagine our exhibition to be like walking through Greta’s picture. Her work will be shown on a huge canvas in the gallery, with a video showing her creative process. The visitors will then walk into a series of immersive installations that create abstract sensory experiences as if you are wandering through Staffin Beach. Each installation is designed to be touched, ‘disrupted’ and interacted with.

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Greta painting on the Isle of Skye

This is the first step for Laura and I in exploring meaningful co-design or collaboration with artists who have profound and multiple learning disabilities. For me, one ongoing challenge in work for neurodiverse audiences is finding ways to give individuals with complex needs autonomy in both the artistic experience and the creative process. It feels right that Greta created this art from her sensory experiences on Skye, and now, based on her interpretation, we will create a series of sensory experiences for visitors who have all different types of needs, considering those with the most complex needs from the beginning of the process. I think the opportunities in collaborations that technologies such as eyegaze open up are staggering and as yet untapped.

During development, we have had lots of design input from visiting adults and young people with additional support needs, who have been testing out our ideas. This has made us think more about:

  • The balance of play and art (is there a difference between them?)
  • The balance of concept and accessibility
  • The balance of active and passive experiences

For me, learning to let the work stand on its own two feet is a fun challenge. I am hardwired to ‘perform’ everything and assume my presence as a performer will make a creative experience better. Laura assures me this is not the case!

We hope SINNERLIGT will create moments of intimate, playful connection between the people who go to it.

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The SINNERLIGT team: Ellie, Laura, Eva and Ulrika

You can keep up to date with our progress making the exhibition on Instagram @performing_materials

SINNERLIGT open on the 1st of September at Halsinglands Gallery, in Hudiksvall.

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https://scense.se/

Playful Tiger: Venue Training and Sensory Audits. Guest blog by Coery Nicholson

image2Hello, my name’s Coery and I’m a performer. Some of you might have seen me as the Guardian of the Labyrinth recently in ‘The Reason I Jump’ which was a show by the National Theatre of Scotland. This show was based on a book by a Japanese author Naoki Higashida, who is non-verbal and on the autistic spectrum. (I read the book with my mum, it’s good, especially for learning about autism, I’d recommend it). For me, I am 13 and I am on the autistic spectrum. I was diagnosed with autism surprisingly at the age of 2. I speak at home with my family, but in public I communicate through an ipad.

My case of autism is not as extreme as people who have profound autism, who are the target audience for Playful Tiger.

In the last couple of weeks, Ellie and I have been to Perth Theatre, The Barn, Macrobert Arts Centre, Platform, The Byre Theatre and Eden Court Theatre, and Johnston Town Hall that’s ran by Paisley Arts Centre. I have been grounding everything because why not and to make sure people understand the types of objects that a profoundly autistic person hates. We have travelled Scotland to a lot of miles like 76 miles. It’s pretty long if you ask me. But at least I got to go to the Highlands.

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Our journey has been great, we get to go to Tesco’s then I can get the registered trademarks and look at copyrights and trademarks. Yay yay, and We had a lot of breaks and we have been doing this for about 10 days. It’s been a tough, tough ride to get to all theatres but we done it either way. We made them watch a video called A Is for autism and It is a cool video aaaaaaaa ooooooooo. We did a sensory audit for them to check each venue and then we finished with a Carlton dance because why not and it’s funny!

The audit was important because Autism Is a target of bullying because some people bully autistic people because they’re different. For example, I’m sensitive to loud noises and flashing lights, so sometimes I wear ear defenders. I have a huge phobia of flying beasties, it’s the buzzing sound I hate. But it’s different for everyone. This might be a little weird but when I look at someone that has autism and was doing something weird, even I would think in my head, “what is he doing?” But after a minute I understand why.

The reason that we are doing the training is that we think that everyone should be able to go to the theatres to see a show. So we train the theatres of all the possibilities, an autistic person and profoundly autistic person has and people with other disabilities.

By Coery Nicholson

 

 

 

 

Playful Tiger, Guest blog 2: Dancer Jade Adamson

Playful Tiger

Dance Artist, Jade Adamson, gives insight into the last week of Playful Tiger by Barrowland Ballet, in collaboration with Ellie Griffithsresearch and development.

For the last part of our research and development for Playful Tiger, we focused on exploring ways of interaction through physical contact and vocalisation as well as trying out more of the performative sections of the show. Through working with some of the pupils at Isobel Mair School and the insights shared by the creative team throughout, what stands out and is extremely exciting for me about this particular work, is that it is fundamentally about being in the moment, listening and responding, inviting the audience on an artistic and experiential journey and sharing that experience. The interactions and exchange between the audience and performer become the essence of the show. The challenge as a performer is finding the balance between immersing in close up, one on one, interactions whilst keeping within the structure of the wider theatrical journey; looking at to what extent we are aiming to control the pace, atmosphere, environment and choreography and how much we are willing to let go and be in the moment.

As dancers and physical performers, listening and communicating through movement and body language is a skill we have really been able to draw upon and utilise during our research. Not using verbal language hasn’t been so much of a barrier and I felt comfortable and enjoyed experimenting around this. We were also very lucky to have had a session with thai massage specialist Juan Mases, who shared some deep pressure techniques that we were then able to put into practise when working with the pupils and with each other. This added a whole new layer to our toolkit and opened up the possibilities on how we might achieve the sense of collective calm towards the end of the show, after our wild Tiger adventure. Through this focus, I have been reminded of the power of communication through touch and physical contact, and have noticed my own mind opening up to the potential of this. I think in this day and age we are discouraged more and more from any sort of physical contact, particularly with children and young people, and therefore physical contact is seen as a taboo when it is actually a primary method of communication and grounding for some people and is a powerful sensory tool that we can all benefit tremendously from using more and not being scared of.

Through working with the young people and the discussions and learning resources that Ellie has shared and initiated over the past two weeks I have also been thinking a lot about inclusion, or having an ‘inclusive practise’. As a person who is non disabled and neuro typical, I am reminded that my experience and thinking is from this perspective, regardless of my intentions or attempts to understand different experiences of the world. I can try to understand the perspective of a person who is profoundly autistic for example, and can attempt to learn about how different brains work in order to communicate or measure how much I have managed to ‘engage’ as an artist and a person but I feel like I need to detach from my own preconceptions of this and simply appreciate that each person will take and offer something different and I shouldn’t be disappointed if someone is not ‘engaging’ in the way I have intended or expected. I think I just need to keep being open to possibilities and developing my toolkit and experiences.

What I am aware of, is that the world is generally not designed with and for people who are profoundly autistic, so I find it no wonder that over the past two weeks that as well as witnessing a huge amount of positive interactions and reactions I have also seen high anxiety, frustration and sometimes strong, physical behaviours coming out. This can be challenging to experience but at the same time, as far as I can gather, is just part of that person’s natural way of dealing with the world around them. The more we experience working with neuro diverse audiences, I think the more we will learn about the different ways that people might engage and communicate.

What has been amazing about the last two weeks is having the space to play, learn and think with the creative team, as well as getting to know and work with some fantastic young people and school teachers. Having the chance try lots of different things, discovering what works for one person might not for another and having permission to explore has been great. The bigger picture is that everybody should be able to access dance and theatre and that opportunities for this kind of audience are so very limited. I’m excited to create the show in September and then getting it on the road but also seeing how the audience development side of the project might have a longer-term effect on who goes to the theatre in future.

Jade Adamson