A series of sensory drama games based on the essence of Shakespeare, created by Kelly Hunter MBE, for people with autism.
Autistic individuals often struggle with making themselves understood, this struggle is communicative and sensory – an almost superhuman effort may be required to connect eyes and mind in order to express reason and love. The Hunter Heartbeat games are derived from Shakespeare’s poetic exploration of how it feels to be alive, specifically through his obsession with the eyes and the mind and with reason and love; how we see, think and feel, which forms the spine of his poetry throughout the whole canon. “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind” (Helena, AMSND) has three of these keywords in just one line and Hamlet’s coining of the phrase “The Mind’s Eye” can be seen as an apotheosis of this poetic exploration.
Through focusing on moments in Shakespeare where characters emerge through seeing, thinking and feeling, my games offer people on the spectrum an opportunity to express themselves; exploring eye contact, language skills, spacial awareness, facial expressions and imaginative play. We play the games in a safe loving space where everyone involved can begin to share common human experience. These sensory games form the basis for Flute Theatre’s productions for people with autism and their families. The games are short, fun and easily repeatable, they require only the human voice and body and another person to play with.
Every game has always been created through playing with people on the spectrum:
How it began
In 2001 I had been an actor at the RSC for some time. I was playing big roles in Stratford upon Avon and London. I was increasingly at odds with the status quo. I knew that Shakespeare’s plays have four keys words running through them – eyes, mind reason and love – creating a poetry of the seeing brain and the loving eye. I knew there is a mystery in his iambic rhythms that sent me almost crazy. I found that these things were barely of interest to anyone I was working with at the time in Stratford. I was not the person I wanted to be.
So I took myself off to the Glebe school, a special school in Beckenham and offered my services to teach Shakespeare to people with no access to the arts. I gave myself the task of creating ways to use Shakespeare so that it lived, wholly and completely in the moment , for the people engaged in it. The school welcomed me with open arms. “You can play with anyone here, except those children” they said,pointing to a closed door, “”because they have autism and they won’t be able to play”
I did play with those children. For an hour once a week, every week for three years and little by little they taught me how to teach them. I never missed one session. They struggled with making eye contact and they struggled with articulating their thoughts and feelings. I focused on alleviating these struggles through directly using moments in the plays that spoke to me as genius; where-in Shakespeare invented his loving eye and his seeing brain. The rhythms of the iambic became a soothing means of transition at the beginning and end of every session where the “extended panic attack” – so deeply felt within someone with autism – seemingly became calmed.
These games have become the Hunter Heartbeat Method. And everyone can play them.
“For me – working in a special school – there is so much material here that is of huge benefit to children who struggle with social interaction. This should be on the shelf of every SEN teacher as there are activities here that would work on many levels for children both verbal and non-verbal, ASD or not.”
Lucy Ellen Rix, Teaching Drama
When I was 2, my brother was diagnosed with severe autism, and my journey trying to understand him began. Throughout my directing career, I have searched for a process of connect the intimacy of theatre to the rigidity of his autism. Kelly Hunter has found that process. There is no more effective way to teach social skills, promote inclusion, and awaken the soul than the Hunter Heartbeat method. The program changed my life, and ever since I started teaching it, it has changed the lives of the hundreds of individuals who have experienced the awakening it provides.
Ben Raanan, Director and Advocate
I was blown away by the sensitive performance of the group of dedicated and highly knowledgeable actors who managed to immerse and involve a group of adolescents with severe autism in their creative interpretation of the Tempest. I think very highly of the work of Flute Theatre and thoroughly recommend their approach. It is a wonderful contribution to a more holistic education of individuals with autism, and it would seem to be applicable at all ages and all abilities, including those without language.
Uta Frith DBE
When I arrived on Friday morning I was ASTONISHED. I have never, ever seen my son behave the way he did. He was seeking out, sitting with and CUDDLING his new young adult pals, with whom he had obviously formed a strong bond in this short space of time. He was engaged, and inordinately happy. It had to be seen to be believed. I cannot stress this enough, this engaged, entirely committed child was like no other version of my son I have ever seen. He still beats his little chest to say hello and goodbye! I have no idea what it was in those sessions which so grasped him, and awoke the part of him which wants to interact. I just know it was the nearest I have seen him to ‘play’, if that makes sense. It is certainly the most communicative I have seen him.
Parent of son with autism