What a fantastic experience! For me, being able to use the puppet as a communication tool, as well as all the sensory elements has been a wonderful opportunity for my own professional development in working with a team of multi disciplined artists, setting up a new sensory theatre company and developing experience with PMLD early years children, carers and parents.Magic moments came during the performance when the children we had formed a relationship with, over the residency shone with the confidence and clarity of attention, tuning into all aspects with comforting assurance and repetition . Having worked quite closely with Harrison, and able to uniquely tune into him being Roosters best friend, what wonderful synchronicity when he typed out how he was the characters best mate! in a thank you letter after the show! I think this is the strength and the magic with this work, the embedding and the relationships made before the event. Thanks you so much to everyone involved!
the artist team - from left to right - Michelle Hovane, Rachel Riggs, Francis Italiano, Rebecca Bradley - Monday 22 Aug, 2011
What an amazing exhilirating and inspiring week of performing the show with the kids! I'm still reeling from the buzz while processing all the incredible interactions that we had with each audience over the different performances... Still pretty speechless, actually. Overall, many delighted young people. Lots of great photos of happy engaged kids to post yet! And much more to tell... 
Final performances today! First show- FULL POWER!!!  What a party we had!
The difference between the audience of children who new the characters, the songs and the performers , to those who did not, was very tangible.  It is clear to see that long term development of a relationship with the students makes a profound difference to their experience.  The task now is to realise how we can translate that experience and relationship building to future experiences and possible touring of the show?

My wish came true, today i began sitting with the children as they arrived in the space, playing the instruments with them, finding ways to let the sounds engage them into wanting to be present.  Jake and Harry from room 2 had a great time playing my guitar!

I can't find the words to describe what an all over enlightening and moving experience this has been.  Perhaps they will come after a good nights rest!

Well done to the sensory team… 2 beautiful performances with thoroughly engaged audiences.   The first show was a ripper, with the performers all working together with strong complicite and keen sense of timing, and all of us delighting at creating this magical moment and sharing it with children we have come to know and love.

From the start it was obvious that the children were now so familiar with the space, the performers and the characters, that they were much more willing to submerge themselves in the experience, to be present and participate with little hesitation.  Children that had arrived distressed calmed down and remained engaged for the duration (1 hour all up).   Even the presence of parents and VIPs that had come to watch did not distract them. 

Second show was perhaps a little less fluid for the performers with a couple of technical hiccups, but the students were equally as engaged. The majority of the children had not been involved in the residency, thus unfamiliar with us and the space, and it took noticeably longer for them to settle.  But once settled there was obvious curiosity and wonderment on many of their faces.

As the musician, I don’t get as much intimate contact with the children as the performers. As the children enter the space I consider my role to be creating a sound environment that feels safe and inviting.  The soundscape of the forest is subtle but to those with sensitive hearing it is foreign and new.  Occasionally children walk I with fingers in their ears, perhaps common behaviour when entering in to a new environment, but soon they remove their hands as they adjust to the sounds.  There are sounds of nature, birds, water, rain and crickets. These are all recorded on the loop pedal, and the children themselves made the sounds on the recording.  You can even hear Harrison giving his signiture humming sound on it!  Very personalised!  As everyone explores the environment I have been playing gentle guitar finger picking to create a gentle and soothing ambiance.  I feel allowing them to gain a level of comfortability from the start allows us to later create more sound that they feel ok to be present to, such as drums and cymbals.  The children respond well to the songs, many singing along and remaining involved from the process of familiarization throughout the residency.

I wish I had had more time to work individually with some students to get a deeper understanding of how they experience music.

It is quite indescribable the feeling after Monday's performances....Being presented with thankyou presents and cards made by the students from Bluegum and Room 2 was incredibly moving. As a performer I felt a level of resonance and energetic feedback from our first 2 audiences that I would expect from a mainstream audience. This is the biggest and clearest indicator to me that the embedding process worked. I can remember doing my first performances of the Jub Jub Tree at Sir David Brand last year and struggling to cope with minimal level of feedback from our audience. I think it is probably two things - 1. I now can read and understand students' communication styles better so their responses are clearer to me. 2.  The students did engage with and understand our performances to much greater degree because during the residency we did wade further and further into the material together....-Planting the Jub Jub Tree, meeting each character, making something to represent each character, being each character and singing their song. Coming into the forest installation and making forest sounds. There was a very high degree of ownership and familiarity with the story for all the classes we have worked with.
Ros who works in Bluegum, spoke about Robbie's very high level of participation. He not only sang the songs we had learnt in class but also participated in other songs throughout the show. He jumped into answer the question "Who ate the leaves from the Jub Jub Tree" with "Donkey". He insisted on taking a sample of each sensory input he could - a bit of sand, some seeds, some glitter, only parting with them when he wanted to play a percussion instrument. Travis so chuffed that he souvenired a rooster feather. Alicia said Joel was so into it - she had to stop him from getting up and joining in many times. Especially when it came to the touching elements like the soil and water. 
From Room 2 Katie, distressed when she arrived, calmed down immediately with the opening song. I also noticed Abby trying to make the hand actions for the animal characters.
With our second performance we had Banksia (whom we have worked with) and Redgum whom we haven't. This was a very interesting contrast. Jack from Banksia had a hoot - big smile on his face..... With the Redgum mob just had to try stuff out to see what worked. Not knowing them at all it was harder to interpret their responses - certainly lot's that was clearly positive. Graeme their teacher gave feedback that they really got into it.

Have really enjoyed rehearsals this week!Been great working with the team, with amused staff looking on and accomodating us in this final process. Was a joy to have early years children interact with the environment and Yellow Gum class participate in our first full run thru of the show. Rooster my puppet character has been liberated from his perch and is free to fly freely around the audience! Loving puppeteering as always, and its all adding up to some lovely performances next week! Also enjoyed making the forest vines for the set, using lots of different tactile fabrics for hands on exploration.
sneaking a peek into the forest during a dress-rehearsal
Rachel and "new and improved" Rooster
Since writing in my last entry how strange it seemed to be back in theatre-making mode after having been so focussed on the classroom-based sensory engagement of the kids for the last 3 months, I have to admit the artist team has also been having a lot of fun over these last couple of days being back in our comfort zone of rehearsing, improvising, debating movements, lines and gestures - and generally doing that thing we love doing; "putting on a show!"  We were also  lucky yesterday to have the Yellowgum class come along to a bit of a "dress-rehearsal" to give us an opportunity to try out some of the new additions to the show and remind ourselves of which existing elements of the sensory theatre experience go down well with the kids. It can be pretty difficult rehearsing and devising such hands-on interactive performance without your target audience giving you direct responses. The other great thing about them coming to see it is they've also ended up being a bit of a "control group" for us in this up-coming week of performances, in that unlike the 5 classes we've spent our residency with, Yellowgum class haven't had any of the pre-show exploratory workshops about the Jub Jub Tree story and characters - in a sense, they were coming to the show "cold" compared to the other classes who now know us and our animal counterparts, the forest setting, and some of the songs and actions etc pretty well. Thankfully, Yellowgum class had a good time - reminding us the raw "product", being specifically designed for audiences with special needs, is already very engaging as a stand-alone experience. But I'm looking forward to comparing how different the show's reception is going to be next week for those kids we've come to know in our residency classes...
Meanwhile, today we got "radical" in our rehearsal and "chopped off" the long wooden staff that formed the base of our Rooster puppet, freeing it up considerably for Rachel to really animate him to life - and importantly, let the puppet get a bit more intimate with (and hopefully less intimidating) for the kids, during the show. It might not sound like much, but actually taking a hack-saw to one of our beloved characters at this stage of things - based on what we've learnt from using it in the classes with the kids - is pretty big for me as Rooster's original maker. (kind of liberating too!)

Michelle and Bec contemplate script changes on the first day of rehearsal/set-up as the Jub Jub Tree waits patiently to bloom...
First day of tackling the actual show after having been so immersed in the classroom experience with the kids - I found myself missing them and had to hold back from encouraging them to come and play on the grassy set as they went past on their way to other school activities.
Great to be reflecting with the artist team on how best to incorporate the practical learning we've gained over the course of the residency into the show - and to realise how much better we "understand" our audience now than when we started.  (Fantastic, really, how readily we agreed on ditching certain elements of earlier versions of the show because we've all learnt through our time in the classroom what sorts of things are more likely to entertain [or bore!] the kids.) Also,kind of challenging at times today to leave behind the headspace of lesson-planning and workshop prep etc and re-enter our theatre-makers world - but also gratifying to "feel" the melding of the two streams of the same form. Really good to have a newer member of the team - Rachel - get us to question some of the theatrical choices of the earlier production of the show - and again, on that level, finding ourselves generally in agreement on better ways to do things.
We touched briefly again on the notion that we suspect, however, that the biggest change we'll encounter this time around won't so much be the show itself as it will be the reaction to the show from the kids who been experiencing the "embedding" of the elements we've explored with them before-hand. (It will be really interesting next week, to compare their emgagement with the couple of classes that will be coming to it "cold"...)
Was struck again today just how much professional expertise we've had on tap for us in the school as, mid-rehearsal, we asked a passing staff-member to clarify a key-word signing action we wanted to use in the script: "Oh no," she said, matter-of-factly hurrying by, "that's not the sign for 'sorry', that's the sign for 'lesbian'!"
Rehearsals and set-building continue...
On Monday this week, it was great to be school with Michelle and Francis to install the new turf floor and put up the tent frame construction. We cleared space in the assembly hall area, pulled up the blinds and let in the light! Using pale green plastic sheeting over the windows diffused the light, and made a tranquil oasis of calm. Amazing how, as staff passed through the space, they commented on the light, and how big the room suddenly seemed. Comparisons to us going camping indoors were of course taken with great humour! Made a sign saying ''Please Play on the Grass'' , to ensure full advantage would be taken by all children and staff to feel and experience the new turf rather than feel they werent allowed.

On Wednesday, myself and Francis brought in many different real leaves and created many different shaped material leaves with the children, using tactile textures, rough, soft, smooth. Working with Blue Gum class for the first session Dawn loved the smell of the Verbena leaves, the music and the feel of the fabric vines, Francis had constructed to fix leaves too. We should use more herbs and good smelling leaves in future, very effective with stimulating the sense of smell.I worked one to one with Joel, who was transfixed looking through my mobile phone view finder at the leaves and his ALD display. It was great to communicate with him through this method, and Icould see the amazing possibilities of todays technology to provide communication applications in a mobilephone for children like Joel to communicate. He also really liked to touch all the different textures of materials. Robbie  came in late to the session but then very enthusiastically made his leaves.
In Banksia's class,it took time for Alex to engage but then he chose lots of shiny materials to stick on his leaf, Samuel wasnt really in the mood for tactile sensory work but he stuck his choices of textures on a leaf. It was interesting how they worked on easels, and we had to make some adjustments so they could press down on the material and glue.They all really enjoyed it, when Donkey puppet came and tried to eat their leaves!
We used the animal chorus music in the session but in retrospect it would of been great to have an atmospheric forest soundtrack.
We also linked the leaves and vines to the real Jub Jub Tree bulbs growing in pots, needing the sun & rain to make the forest grow.
I had to leave unexpectedly early , so I cant wait to see how the forest now looks!
Feedback from staff included
'Really good activity'
'Great range of textures and materials'

Finally, you can listen to the animal motif songs!
Just follow these links (or cut and paste into your browser).....

Rooster's song:
Goat's song:
Donkey's song: