This blog will document my research & development that will involve:
• Reviewing online videos of Mister Tumble a world leader in accessible performance for children’s television/theatre & study his performance with integrated Makaton. Visit a Makaton signed theatre performance in the UK.
• Work with Makaton regional trainer Helen Adams to explore interpreting an extract from my performance. Meet choreographer & co-director of Company Chameleon Kevin Edward Turner to share research & ideas behind the work. Work collaboratively with the performer, choreographer & Makaton trainer in studio rehearsals.
I have been researching online guides on how to produce accessible performance and I found this clearly explained working document by ‘unlimited’ arts commissioning program for disabled artists, titled Demystifying Access. The guide opens with a statement: ‘If you care about reaching a wide and diverse audience with your work it is essential to consider questions of access – there are 11 million disabled people in the UK alone; that’s almost 1 in 6 people (Source: www.gov.uk). The law requires that no one is excluded from accessing public services and demands reasonable adjustments to be made in order to ensure this – so it is our job as performance makers to think ahead and not discriminate!’
As an audience interviewer in the cultural sector and with my experience of and working with neurodiverse people I have a feeling that this 1 in 6 statistic is actually higher. Part of my frustration with the world is how slow we are to change and implement access from the start of things which is why I am passionate about developing this over a period of time into my work. I want to develop a Touch Tour for my next showing of Statue and I have struggled to find this activity in the real world to experience first hand which is how I like to learn. However, this online access document to Touch Tours will support my planning as it includes references to performance companies that offer this activity.
What is a Touch Tour? A Touch Tour is an opportunity for the audience to explore the performance set through touch and an opportunity to ask questions before the event starts. I like how this offers another way into the work, its a quieter introduction with additional sensory opportunities to interact with the work. My costume and make-up are visually and texturally really interesting to look at and to touch. I can imagine questions being asked about how the costume is made and how the makeup is applied. Could I take this a little bit further where people could apply a small amount of makeup onto me? This is a really exciting way of thinking about how children engage with the set when I present this at The Orchards specialist school, Trafford where there will be individual needs for 1-2-1 or smaller group interaction. We know that offering different ways of engaging with work can only be of benefit to everybody.
As part of my a-n bursary and Arts Council England project grant, I visited a Makaton integrated family theatre show titled Ribbet Ribbet Croak by Moulded Theatre at The Cockpit in London this was a bit further than I wanted to travel however there was nothing else available for me to see in the North West. My initial research into this area really did surprise me at how little Makaton friendly performances are out there and how some of the Makaton friendly theatre venues do not provide this in there programming. It was worth traveling to London to see Moulded Theatre, Makaton friendly show where I got to meet the director and the cast, they also let me have a look at their performance set before the show started. In the show, the two performers dressed as frogs signed through the entire set with symbols used in a 2D format that were hung on a washing line.
The show was very interactive with lots of opportunities for the children to get up and play and touch different materials. One of my favourite parts of the show was how they used some basic materials to mime bringing to life through live action the Makaton symbol for a rollercoaster. The cast were really engaging and kept really calm even when children started wondering into the performance set, I left feeling like I had seen a theatre show for families that was fully signed in Makaton. I feel that what I am developing is a different kind of structure using both the workshop format with a micro performance and I want the audience to go away with some knowledge of Makaton with additional resources to continue there learning at home. I want my work to go beyond performance and encourage people to actively explore and do Makaton in the world.
My aim with this work was to make my Unknown Statue workshop & performance Makaton friendly which I feel was a success. I started with a relaxed performance of a maximum of 25 people and in the second session 75 and surprisingly I felt that I could hold the rooms attention with the work and the slideshow so this was a good experiment to try a limited capacity and then opening it up to see what could be the maximum audience in the space. I was unsure about the timings, and the lengths of some of the elements within the show but I think with a little tweaking this could be improved, however, the structure was right with a short warm up, talk and sign through the slides, performance and collaborative performance at the end. The space rocket symbol graphic used in the sound effect sections of the song that the participants had were a real success I could see how excited the children were holding an object to zoom into the sky.
I set the tone at the start by just being myself, meeting and greeting everyone was important for me to feel comfortable and to make people feel welcome. I did consider being statue still at the beginning as the audience entered but physically I just felt that would be too much for me and that it could be quite scary for some of the children. A surprising thing that happened at the end of session two was when my son approached me on the plinth and high fived me which then led to a stream of children wanting to repeat this interaction with me. This got me thinking about more interactivity at the beginning and at the end of the performance. I want to include a touch tour element to the work as the make-up and wardrobe are fascinating to look at and to touch. The song choice was perfect and I am passionate about using contemporary music rather than nursery rhymes or children’s books which are the usual references in Makaton signed performances. I produced a printed sign/symbol/lyric sheet for participants to take away at the end of the show and from the feedback, I had received people appreciated the opportunity to be able to continue there learning at home.
To gather audience reactions I had an interviewer gather feedback from families to find out what they liked and what they would change in the show? The reaction that resonated with me was a mother of two children, one child has down syndrome and she commented that: “I liked that it was something for all ages. My daughter doesn’t often participate in things from start to finish she usually loses focus but that had her gripped and I feel like I’ve come away and learned something that I can continue to learn with the girls.” I observed a child and his mother who looked quite disengaged in the second session however when it came to signing together the child knew all of the signs and completed the entire song. I am careful not to assume what participation looks like as I understand that this can be achieved by simply looking or being in a room with other people, the additional signing for some people is a bonus. However, this did confirm for me the importance of the symbol and word slideshow as another visual medium for the audience to read from which I noticed that the child had followed.
As part of my a-n and arts council project grant, I have two research visits firstly a show that has integrated Makaton and I will attend a second show that is a relaxed performance. I wonder if there are shows that are produced solely as a relaxed performance? What are the seating layouts and capacity for this type of show? I want to experience different types of touch tours, for example, a taster/teaser of a show and to experience being physically guided by my hands to explore sculptural figures. Overall my show needs editing down and I will trim down the music and the number of symbols taught in the sign/symbol/word slideshow section. Could there be some background music playing as people entered the space? Could the performance space be more colourful or include some sensory elements for younger children. Lots to reflect on…
I had my first 1-2-1 rehearsal with Helen Adams through a Skype link which was my first time performing to someone in this way. Originally I wanted to be in a physical space but actually working like this is a much better use of our time and we have quickly got into one hour sessions where I can get the technical support I need to develop the work. What came out of my first rehearsal with Helen was how I have integrated the Makaton signs really well and there where just a few signs that needed to be made more explicit such as ‘cuddle’ and ‘dream’. I edited out some of the signs that where originally given as I want stillness within the performance which artistically is an important element to being viewed as a statue. This editing is what is making this work different to simply learning a song we are also moving like statues together. What I had been struggling with was how to incorporate symbols without overwhelming the audience with too much information.
To support the Makaton sign and speech in the workshop/performance it is essential to integrate the symbols to give another visual reference that represents some of the lyrics in the song. ‘The advantages of using symbols can increase understanding and provides another means of expression. Symbols are motivating, attractive and can hold a person’s interest they illustrate that speech and writing is made up of words and sounds’ (The Makaton Charity). With a bit more thought and experimenting in the studio I have been trying out using larger symbols such as the ‘guitar’ and ‘space rocket’ as a performative prop to illustrate some of the sound effects in the song Digital Love, Daft Punk. As part of the performance set I will have a TV monitor behind me playing the symbol slideshow that will mirror my signing and I am in the process of producing this in iMovie.
I received good news last week and the development of this work over the next 6 months will be supported by Arts Council England. This support together with the a-n professional development bursary is really allowing me the time I need to research and develop integrating Makaton into my work. With my upcoming Unknown Statue, workshop & performance happening on Saturday at Haphazard, Z-arts I am producing a short promotional video that has taken careful planning and interpreting into a short and clear makaton friendly sign & symbol advert. I am used to working in print or digitally and this is a new way of promoting my work by signing in a selfie video format to audiences. Follow me on instagram to see the advert and please share @artist_worker_mother
To support my artistic practice I work part-time as an Audience Interviewer in the cultural sector, which has informed my work & I regularly receive neurodiverse audience feedback of the lack of access to interpretation in museums & galleries, which is why I am passionate about developing creative & accessible performance for all audiences. Being an interviewer can sometimes feel like being a statue as I can wait for up to an hour for a visitor to exit a venue. Although I have put this time to good use as you learn a lot about audience engagement or the lack of it by being still in an institutional environment.
What is Makaton & what are the benefits?
I am personally drawn to Makaton, as it is a performative language, which is an extension of our natural gestures, it is inclusive & fun to do. Makaton can be helpful for children or adults of any age, with individual needs or a combination of needs. Children & adults who have problems communicating but don’t have a learning difficulty use Makaton. This includes babies who have not yet developed speech, people whose first language is not English, those who have lost speech because of an injury, illness & those with memory problems. Makaton can help to support introducing new concepts & can develop literacy & language skills (Makaton Charity, 2019). As a neurodiverse artist I have found speaking & signing with Makaton has really helped me to simplify how I talk about my practice in a clear way.
My Makaton journey started with learning some basic British Sign Language (BSL) so I could communicate in my interview job with deaf visitors. I had incorporated the BSL sign for ‘monument diversity’ into a living sculpture performance as I love the expression of sign although I realised that if you where not deaf or a BSL user you would not know what the sign was it would just be viewed as movement. This has troubled me as I want my work to communicate more & be less abstract which is what led me to exploring Makaton language which is much more iconic in its use of signs & can be understood by everybody.
I have a young child & I am very aware of the kids TV show Something Special presented by Mr Tumble, aka Justin Fletcher on CBeebies who performs using integrated Makaton. Fletcher plays two characters in the show, firstly as a version of himself & secondly a clown which allows a simpler format where the absolute key signs are presented with the use of props. I am learning from watching episodes of the shows about the speed of delivery, rhythm of speech & the importance of repetition throughout a performance. Mr Tumble has a very specific aesthetic that is colourful & circles are used extensively across the TV set design, performance wardrobe & the props. I have found on Youtube some earlier shows which where much simpler with a dominant white background & focussed object areas to sign about, that I actually prefer as I can find all the colours a bit of a distraction.
To learn the correct Makaton signs to a new song Digital Love by Daft Punk I am using in my Unknown Statue performance I am working 1-2-1 with a Helen Adams, Regional Trainer/Speech & Language Therapist who is supporting me to translate the words into signs & symbols. It’s really exciting to see how the lyrics have been interpreted & I am starting to rehearse them in the studio. I plan to have a Skype rehearsal with Helen next week which is a new experience performing through a video link. We aimed to work together with a choreographer but due to his work commitments we will explore his input in May time. For now I am learning the basic Makaton structure of the song & developing an early version of the performance that I will be showing at the end of the month at Haphazard, Z-arts a live art event for families which I am really excited about putting this research into practice.