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creating possibilities for disabled children

Down to Earth is a Bamboozle production designed for audiences with complex needs. Inspired by the Land Army Girls of WWII, the show creates a multi-sensory experience which sees our audience join Betty, Doris, Mavis and Arthur in Arthur’s allotment garden. Together, our audience and performers explore the produce of the garden, when a mischievous mole starts to cause mayhem! An air raid warning sounds, after which we take shelter in a magical forest filled with wildlife and fireflies. 

Usually, our set and props create this environment inside a theatre studio or a school hall. However due to venues being closed, and the necessity of being socially distanced in the open air, we decided to take a show outdoors. And there couldn’t have been a show more thematically suited for the task. 

In early September, members of Bamboozle’s creative team undertook the challenge of transposing the performance to take place in the beautiful gardens at Belgrave Hall in Leicester, and then at Rowley Field’s allotments. We were very lucky with the weather, and all planned performances were able to go ahead. 

Miriam Keye, Bamboozle artist and movement specialist, tells us about her experience being part of the adaptation process. 

“On the whole I think Bamboozle have been doing incredible things in the face of the pandemic and I am so proud to be in the team.

We aren’t struggling with vulnerability within my own family, but we have three young children, two of which are at an age with zero understanding of social distancing and we have no desire to teach them this skill. Therefore, we stayed very much within our own space, worked from home and only saa couple of other close family members until school started again.

highlight for me was arriving at the allotment and knowing I was going to spend the day with other people! But not only that; I was going to be spending it with people whom I have great love and admiration for. In that moment, the biggest challenge was not giving them all a great big hug! 

And knowing that our purpose there was to offer joy, connection and some well needed escapism just filled me with humungous delight.

The challenges of adapting the show: 

It was really hard juggling all the different strands of thought: firstly, getting to know the show, and then getting to know the two different spaces we were performing in” 

We looked at how different styles of wheelchairs might (or might not) be able to navigate those spaces and rejigged the show to fit in the most accessible way.  

Another challenge was finding different ways to offer the families some of the experiences we would normally offer through directly touching or making contact with the young people.  

We developed explorations that they could do in their family bubbles instead and worked these into the show through bringing in a new character (Mavis – that’s me!). 

When looking at the props we were using, we created “single use” props for families, (for example, everyone had their own pre-prepared vegetable packs to explore), and as performers we had individually assigned props and had to make sure we were the only one who touched them – being vigilant that your props aren’t picked up by someone else.  

We also wanted to maintain using puppets in the show, (our mischievous mole! And some buzzing bees), without bringing them too close to anyone in case they were to get touched 

We choreographed the cast to ensure we always maintained enough distance between us and the audience.  

After we’d worked out all of the logistics, the biggest highlight for me was to be with our families again. To hear that many families had trusted us enough to be their first experience outside of their bubble was humbling and an absolute honour. It made me grateful for the attention to detail that the team had paid to ensuring the safety of everybody involved.  

Another highlight was seeing the huge variety of ways that families responded to the activities offered in the show: the wheel of a wheelchair became the biggest garlic press ever! Chucking veg into bags, listening to the flapping of a leek, the delight of sweet honey on the tongue, filling the earth tray with golden leavesthe concentration of balancing sticks, being together in relative stillness and listening, and the moment where we danced in a circle all together, connected will long branches of willow.   

Watch a short film about our families’ experiences of Down to Earth at Rowley Fields.

On Saturday 5th September, we welcomed small groups of family bubbles along to Belgrave Hall for our first socially distanced outdoor performances of our production Down to Earth: a show designed for young audiences who might be described as having profound and multiple learning disabilities. 
This multi-sensory show evokes the atmosphere of a WWII allotment site using a mix of live music, puppetry, and movement. 
Harris and family came along to an afternoon performance and were welcomed warmly by Land Girls Betty, Doris and Mavis, and allotment keeper Arthur, who proudly showed them their vegetable garden. 

As part of the show, our audience members helped the Land Girls on the allotment by packing their own food boxes full of fresh vegetables and herbs to take away. 
Mum Jade told us “being outdoors added another dimension to the show, and brought a whole new sensory experience. Today’s performance was unique, uplifting and entertaining”. 
To follow on from the experience at home, Harris and family decided to make some delicious “Bamboozle Broth” from their haul of produce and sent us some great photos.

Step one: preparing the ingredients

Harris gathered the ingredients together ready to prepare for the broth: carrots, potatoes, onions, spring onion, a sweet potato, a stick of celery, a leek, a courgette, some ginger and garlic and a pot of honey. 

Step 2: chop up your vegetables 

Harris gets stuck in with chopping up veg, starting with the squeaky, stinky leek! 

Step 3: more chopping! Next comes peeling the crunchy carrots and slicing the courgette… 

Now we wait until it all cooks down… 

Step 5: Enjoy some delicious and healthy soup together!

Wow that broth looks so delicious! Many thanks to Jade and Harris for sharing your Down to Earth Broth recipe! We’re glad that you enjoyed the show and that the vegetables got put to good use.

During 2019’s summer holidays, Bamboozle Theatre Company hosted a week-long Family Residency at Bonington Theatre, Arnold, and at Curve Theatre, Leicester, supported by funding from Nottingham County Council (Bonington), BBC Children in Need, The D’Oyly Carte Foundation, The Henry Smith Charity, and Arts Council England. 
In Bamboozle’s 25 year history, we’ve been delivering our immersive multi-sensory residencies designed for learning disabled children and young people at theatre venues in Leicestershire, and later in Nottinghamshire, during school holidays for the past 17 years. 
Our family residencies are designed to be tailored to the access needs of children and young people who might be described as having profound and multiple learning disabilities and children who are on the autistic spectrum. 
The whole family are welcome at the residencies, including brothers and sisters of any age, and members of the extended family, too, where we create an accessible experience which can be shared by everyone. 
Often, families who come to Bamboozle’s sessions tell the company that it’s nearly impossible for them to find activities which cater for the needs of their whole family group, and that our sessions are one of the few things that they can do together as a family. 
A visit to a Bamboozle Family Residency involves being taken on a journey through different multi-sensory environments. Five or six families coming along for either a full-day experience or a half-day experience. Keeping group numbers limited means that Bamboozle’s team of artists and volunteers are able to provide a high level of focussed interaction and attention for each individual disabled child. 
As part of this summer’s residency, families met the character Greta, a tour guide to Dragon Forest. There hasn’t been a dragon spotted in the forest for many years, but recently signs have started to appear that show dragons may have returned! 

Families explore the forest, gathering specimens of the flora and fauna, only to be rudely interrupted by construction workers who are threatening to flatten the forest for new developments. After the construction workers leave, families discover a cave, home to Ember, the last dragon in the forest. Ember’s eggs are about to hatch and need protecting. Families then work together to rescue Ember, her eggs, and to save the forest. 
At the centre of the experience is opening up possibilities for creative interaction for learning-disabled participants. Bamboozle creates an environment which full of focused attention, incorporating all of the senses, which means that children can participate in their own way and at their own pace. 
Children are given the opportunity to communicate however they choose. For non-verbal children, often different methods of communication are opened up. Every child is acknowledged and valued. 
Parent and carers who attend Bamboozle’s sessions with their children have described the experiences as “absolutely perfect for our young people; interactive, engaging, sensory and fun”. 

One of this summer’s sessions was attended by a local short breaks service for learning disabled young people. 
A member of staff from Crocus Fields service said “I cannot express enough how wonderful the performance was. Today I saw young people engaging in a way that I have never seen before. They were focused, happy, relaxed and all in a safe environment. As staff we felt safe in letting the young people explore at their own leisure without having to be by their side, the young people were able to experience a little freedom in a safe and interactive space. The performance itself was imaginative and fun. The cast were kind and friendly and understood the needs of the young people”. 
Tina Smith, Bamboozle’s Family Development Worker, tells us “the Family Residencies are a vital experience for the families and carers who attend. The benefit that children and young people and their family group get out of being in such a welcoming creative environment, which is fully accepting and has their choices at the heart of it can’t be underestimated”. She adds “Bamboozle is a registered charity and we depend on funding to be able to put on our family experience. We’d like to thank this years’ funders; Nottingham County Council, BBC Children in Need, The D’Oyly Carte Foundation and Arts Council England for enabling us to continue providing these immersive experiences”. 
Watch this space for dates of future Bamboozle’s family residencies. If you would like to find out more about our residencies, please get in touch by calling 0116 255 2065. 

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