Queensmill School

Sunday the 16th September 2018

This morning, Marcus, our profoundly autistic 12 year old son said ‘YES drama today.’ Given that Kelly’s one week drama course was 6 weeks ago, and Marcus rarely if ever articulates anything, illustrates the profound effect it had on him. It was extraordinary, that week in the summer. I had deliberately stayed away for the first 4 days. Marcus is usually negatively distracted by my presence anywhere.
But Ed my elder son who joined Marcus on the course was evangelical about what the course was doing for Marcus, he kept telling me how he was sitting with the young actors, and actively seeking them out. Curiosity got the better of me, and I came with them on the last day.When I arrived on Friday morning I was ASTONISHED. I have never, ever seen Marcus 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.

I was trying to explain to my husband the significant difference in him, but it had to be seen to be believed. I cannot stress this enough, this engaged, entirely committed child was like no other version of Marcus 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.
My eldest son Ed was really affected by it. he is, to all intents and purposes, an only child. He loves his brother, but he doesn’t have a fraternal partner in crime. That week, he felt like he did. He loved the young actors, they were the perfect age for a 14 year old boy. He didn’t feel patronised, or like he was in a ‘special needs’ environment. (you would not believe some of the things we have done………) He felt involved, on a level, and had some great laughs. Which is very important to our family!
We all felt joyful, and grateful for the experience.

-Gillian Walch Taylor, Marcus Mother-

I think Ollie must be one of the people we work with who seems to truly enjoy the work the most. What first springs to mind when I think of him is the way he seems to be constantly smiling or laughing. When we do a session with him in real space I always think he seems like he is totally in his element within the context of drama or performance. It’s so fun to play with someone who responds so much to each game – and moreover, I feel that when we play with Ollie the whole company is lifted because of that reminder to play. To properly play, fully. Which is ultimately what the root of this whole thing is.

-Oliver McLellan, Actor-

I always begin and end my drama sessions with heartbeats. Since working at the Bush with his mother and sister, one of my students now responds to the rhythm in a totally new way. On hearing the hello heartbeat he begins to smile, laugh and literally jump for joy. It was as if the memory of the rhythm had settled into his muscles and the positive associations that came with it seemed overwhelming. As soon as the heartbeats finishes he requests for more through gesture and sound. At the end of the session he was beginning to get unsettled as a preferred activity was ending. However, as soon as he heard the goodbye heartbeat this instantly helped settle him into a happier, calmer state and, in turn, we avoided an episode of dysregulation. The instant effect honestly appeared to be magical.

-Elise Robinson, Head of Drama Queensmill School-

“Last Saturday I really didn’t know what to expect when I turned up for Flute Theatre’s performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with my extremely autistic 18 year old son.

As always, being in a public place with him was panic-inducing, despite the fact that this was an incredibly supportive environment.  Even before the start, while the actors and artistic director were warmly introducing themselves, he managed to run away from me 3 times – to be retrieved from the auditorium, the ladies’ loos and the admin offices.  The difference was that no one minded or batted an eyelid, and I was immediately offered help with finding him.  That never happens!

At the start I experienced familiar feelings – hard to shift ever since he was tiny – of feeling intensely anxious about his behaviour and nervous of being judged as his parent.  As he galloped around the stage, made loud inappropriate comments and flapped his arms, I fretted repeatedly about whether to take him out and whether he was spoiling it for everyone else.

What was breathtaking, was the way the actors immediately adapted what they were doing, to incorporate what he was experiencing and communicating with his behaviour into the performance. 

In other words, they entered into he’s world rather than demanding that he enter theirs.  Whether he was jumping, talking in a loud Cockney accent, or rocking back and forth, 2 actors worked with him to incorporate what he was bringing into the show.

It worked!  He relaxed, he felt accepted for himself, he began to visibly enjoy the sensory games and humourous use of Shakespeare’s text.  What’s more, the same was happening, in different ways, with all the other participants and actors.

After a while I noticed that I had relaxed too, both physically and mentally, in a way that almost never happens when I’m with him.  My arms and legs had uncrossed, I was leaning forward, mesmerised, and smiling.  I could relax because he was with people who really “got” him and understood how to work with autism.

At one point, an actor tapped a repeated single chime on a bell, and in the ensuing silence each participant in turn closed their eyes and turned to follow the direction of the sound.  This was a spellbinding, beautiful moment with everyone in the room intensely focussed on each child.  The silence and calm was magical.  It felt almost religious, as though a sacred space had been created, within which something transformative was happening.”

-Parent-

Working with K felt like the first moment that this work all landed for me. I learnt from K that one way autism can manifest itself in a person is in an intense anxiety. An anxiety that can act as a physical barrier to an experience. An anxiety that can inhibit a person and draw them inwards, rather than looking outwards to meet the world. And I learnt what it is to sit with that person, and to sit with that feeling of anxiety, and to try to be a place of stability, consistency and patience. To be there entirely for them, and to recognise the day that they are having today, in this moment. Where their mood is. 

One of my clearest memories of my time with Flute is of working with K at the Bush Theatre, playing the ‘One Piece For Me’ game from Pericles. We had worked with K’s group for about three days, and on the first few days had come up against quite a lot of resistance and reluctance. On the third day, when it came time to play the game, K and I stood in the centre of the circle and slowly warmed into the game. I remember K taking her hands away from her ears, and gradually letting all of the noise, music and rhythms underpinning the game from the edges of the circle settle and sink in. I remember us repeating and repeating and repeating the game, and the more turns we took the more it felt as though we were dancing. By which I mean it felt reciprocal, and like we were both offering something to each other. Which was the greatest lesson to learn about this work: it is mutual. This is not about teaching, or demonstrating, or leading. It is about a conversation. In that moment of breakthrough with K, in the middle of that circle of sound, I felt like the two of us were having a conversation. It felt like something had momentarily cleared, and we were able, for a minute, to be two people meeting one another. 

Since that moment, I have returned to that thought pretty much every time we have done this work. How can I meet this person, in this moment?

-Oliver McLellan, Actor-

R was the first kid I ever played the Shakespeare games with. As I entered the Queensmill school, I had mixed feelings wondering about what the day was going to be; I was excited and nervous at the same time. Then entered R, with a huge smile on his face. He just eased all of my worries and filled up the room with happiness. His laugh was so infectious. He kept laughing and looking at me, playing with my beard. By the end of the session, I felt like we had known each others for years.

-Mohit Mathur, Actor-