After the dynamic and fun-filled experience of working as an artist team of 4 doing the bulb-planting session last week, I was a little apprehensive about what I could achieve working solo doing the same session with Deanne's kids in Room 5. The artist team had very much realised with the earlier workshop that music is an integral part of the experience that somehow unifies the elements we're working with for the kids - focusing them into the activity and framing things. What would happen for the kids, I wondered, without Bec's accompanying drum beats and musical interlude to "fill in the gaps"? Would I "lose" them while klutzing about to find the next prop and swap over from one puppet to another? Fortunately, I had Bec's newly recorded CD of the animals' signature songs to help me introduce each character - which really helped. Forced to improvise, I had to leave the puppets outside the classroom door in the hallway and ended up with an even more exciting "entrance" for each animal as the kids watched me running out into the hallway to look for Rooster only to have Rooster "pop out" around the corner and precede my own entrance as Deanne cued his song - Bang! Kooky excitement in the classroom! (and quickly establishing me as "second banana" to the animals whenever the puppets were animated throughout the session). Also a relief is the realisation that the "embedding" of the characters seems to be working - a number of the kids were genuinely happy to see the animals returning to their class - at the very least, their appearance seems to signify that something fun's about to happen.
In terms of my concerns (as it turns out, incorrect) about the "gaps" in the session that working solo necessitates, what I soon realised was that these provided welcome processing time for the kids in between the steps of the bulb-planting exercise - so that one child might still be thoughtfully rubbing dirt between their fingers for a couple of minutes while I was gathering the watering cans. (I had spent prep time making the actual flower-pot sensory - covering it with reflective sequins and long fake grass - how nice that the kids got to spend time actually exploring it  while I was busy fishing out the plant bulbs from my kit...). Since this realisation, I had the opportunity to read some thoughts from one of the principal artists from another fantastic UK sensory theatre company, Bamboozle, who specialise in creating sensory story experiences for PMLD kids. He was talking about  remembering to give kids time for "being" as opposed to always be "doing". As theatre makers/performers/entertainers there's often such an ingrained aversion to letting what we call "dead space" creep into a show but in this work it's almost the opposite - that is, in this context these gaps can actually be the breathing  spaces for the kids, which, as the name implies, brings what we're doing with them to life...


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