Perth’s Sensorium Theatre are the only theatre company in Australia dedicated to making theatre for children with disabilities, who can often feel excluded from typical performances aimed at kids. “Sometimes, with the best of intentions, mainstream theatre experiences might just be a little bit too fast and furious for our audiences to be able to process at their own pace,” says Sensorium Theatre co-artistic director Francis Italiano.
As the name would suggest, Sensorium Theatre engages its young audiences through each and every sense. Whereas a typical show has a clear distinction between actor and audience, Sensorium isn’t afraid to take guests by the hand – literally – and lead them through an immersive, sensory storytelling experience.
The theatre company’s new show Whoosh! does just that. Whoosh! takes young explorers on a journey through the galaxy as members of a spaceship crew. The audience gets to touch, taste, see and smell their way through space with Sensorium Theatre incorporating assistive technologies that the kids might use in their day-to-day life. “There's a lot of buttons, dials, meters, knobs and all sorts of things for them to engage with to help us fly the ship,” says Italiano. “There are different smells to encounter along the way. There are some creatures that purr in our hands when we hold them and light up and sing to us.”
The company’s young audiences have a variety of accessibility needs. Some need more time to process content, some benefit from having reduced light and sound volumes and some have physical accessibility requirements.
To best cater for the diverse audience, Sensorium Theatre performers have to become a little like jazz musicians, says Italiano. “When people book we might get some brief information about the audience members who are coming,” he says. If the team knows a child responds well to music, or has difficulty with visual processing then Sensorium can tailor the performance to suit. “On the one hand we're preparing the audience, and then the other side is we're preparing the artists.”
The Melbourne production of Whoosh! is currently sold out. Visit the Arts Centre Melbourne website for more info.