Flute Dreams the beginnings at the Bush Theatre
From a pedagogical point of view, this has been a remarkable project, where students get to learn practically about being completely alert, alive, responsive, playful, sensitive and fully ‘present’ as performers. Their teachers in this instance are the Queensmill children – and that relationship was revelatory for the students. It taught them something about ‘being in the moment’, lack of ego, loving and caring for each other and how acting can provide opportunities to create genuinely democratic spaces.
GEORGINA SOWERBY MA DRAMA UAL LONDON. COURSE LEADER
Experiencing Flute’s work at Queensmill was an absolute joy. Seeing over 150 of our students connect, engage, transform and play in a totally new and unique way was inspiring. The majority of our young people’s autism is at the complex end of the spectrum and in being flexible, accepting and gentle they gained the trust of every young person who walked through the door. During the games, actors sensitively encouraged initiations from the children where they played with an array of communicative skills; facial expression, eye contact, language and spatial dynamics to name only a few. Many staff members were amazed at the degree to which children participated, especially those who often avoid such social contact. They instantly gained the trust of our staff, who then relaxed and were encouraged to play as much as the children!
HEAD OF DRAMA, QUEENSMILL SCHOOL
The energy in the building that week was vibrant, with excited children & young people and enthusiastic students mingling together in the front of house areas, sharing with each other this magical experience that Flute Theatre have so lovingly created. We at the Bush loved it and can’t wait to do it again!
The best engagement work doesn’t happen in a silo. The best work happens in collaboration. The week that Bush Theatre, Flute Theatre Company, and MA Acting UAL students came together to provide a weeks worth of creative workshops for children and young people from Queensmill School was an incredibly special experience, both personally and professionally for myself as the Community Producer, and also for the Bush Theatre as a community-focused building.
The Hunter Heartbeat Method which Flute Theatre have developed allows children and young people with Autism to engage with Shakespeare, and the arts more generally, in gentle, inclusive and inventive ways.
The Queensmill School staff and management have an unwavering dedication to providing high quality activity for their students, with teachers volunteering their time in their Summer holidays to chaperone the workshops and support the project.
The students from MA Acting UAL were kind, thoughtful and incredibly engaging. They built beautiful relationships with the young people, which, given they were only in contact for an hour each day, was an amazing testament to their ability to be open and giving.
The feedback from the parents involved was tear-jerking, but only because it highlighted what a genuine impact the week had had on the young people, and where there isn’t always the opportunity for families with SEN children to access free, local and high quality arts activities, made it all the more important.
HOLLY SMITH. COMMUNITY PRODUCER, BUSH THEATRE
The Flute Dreams project, a parent’s view
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.
Flute Dream’s, Year One, Queensmill School
They walk into the room and they know it’s different, it’s big for them. These are kids that spend sometimes the majority of their day in a state of trauma or a state of upset and confusion, they’re a bit lost. Then they come here and they have an actor each to work with them, when does that happen? Never! And they get this beautiful, essentially one-to-one experience and also group experience, that just transcends anything that they’ve experienced before. And you can see that, I go up to a kid now, even without the context of the actors, I go up to them and start doing the heart beat and you can see it just running through them, it’s in their muscles now, this joyful memory of the experience and their desire to want to recreate it
HEAD OF DRAMA, QUEENSMILL SCHOOL
It’s been life changing for lot’s of families, families have gotten the chance to see their child celebrated both within the school and within local theatre. It’s been transformative – They’ve seen another side to their own child that they like with everyday and that’s been phenomenal for us
HEAD OF QUEENSMILL SCHOOL
Tom Underwood. Teacher, Garratt Park School
Before reading ‘Shakespeare’s Heartbeat’ by Kelly Hunter I had not considered it possible to explore Shakespeare’s plays with my pupils, all of whom have autism and learning difficulties. The book has opened up new avenues and has revolutionised the way that I teach through it’s description of exercises and games used by Flute Theatre Company, particularly the Hunter Heartbeat Method. Kelly has a clear understanding of how to engage young autistic people and the book is written in a way that allows teachers to replicate games within the classroom and also adapt to use with other Shakespeare plays. The biggest compliment I can give to the work of Kelly is the positive feedback I receive from pupils and parents whilst we work with the Hunter Heartbeat Method. Every year parents report back to me that their children are talking about the story and acting out scenes at home and at school the pupils are equally enthusiastic, even wanting to play the games during wet breaks! After a performance by the pupils of Romeo & Juliet which used Flute theatre techniques, one parent wrote to me, “We would never in our wildest dreams have thought D could achieve what he did.” Shakespeare is an integral part of our society, bringing young people with learning difficulties into his work is a huge step in inclusion.
Parents, Queensmill School. Flute Dreams 2019
It has been such an amazing experience watching the transformation of my autistic 15 year old son.
When Kourosh first joined drama sessions at Bush theatre, he was withdraw and confused, he did not want to join in and was constantly wandering around. After several sessions, he began to show interest and then unbelievable started joining in. He has even begun to speak up which is great since he has always had a lower than normal tone making it difficult for others to hear him. Another thing which is fantastic to see is how patiently he waits for his turn and how he tries to chip in when they are all doing a chorus.
Thanks for such an amazing experience!
It was really a great experience for myself and for my five year old son attending these calming and fun session in the Bush theatre. The atmosphere was so calming, lovely and friendly. The kelly with her team of actors were great. They were so kind, friendly, patient and understanding. In the first day my was scared to go inside the room. But at the last day he was so happy and excited and wanted to stay more there after the session finished. What an amazing transformation!
Thank you for arranging and giving such a great experience to us.
I would like to express our experience at Bush theatre over summer. Firstly, my son Sammy loves drama at Bush theatre and he looked forward to attend it everyday. Sammy has improved his confident and communication since he is attending to drama. And I can see the improvement in the first week of attending to drama.
The staff at Bush Theatre including you are amazing and very supportive people that I am not see only with my son with all of the children who attending to drama at Bush. We are very grateful to be part of the drama at Bush. The team at Bush know how to work with children with autism and they make them to overcome and cope with their condition.
Thank You for the great opportunity you gave us being part of your drama club at the Bush.
Elena Dobrovolschi, Clinical Psychologist, Sibiu Romani
Thank you very much for the opportunity to be in contact with you and your team.
It was a privilege and a pleasure to feel and learn with all of you.
More than learning a method, I lived it. And I have discovered, once
again, that it is easier for me to take the pain and feel it, than to
cause pain and see it in others (the exercise with master and
monster). And going deeper in this experience, it was a revelation to
discover, in this context, than it’s easier for me to be “the monster”
than “the master”! I had the opportunity to discover how great is my
need for feeling and expressing what I feel, despite the daily
experience of being in control. I could write a novel about the experience I’ve had with you, about
self-discovery and assumption.
You and all those beautiful and expressive young people in your team
have a great talent: to make us live, not just look, to bring us back
to ourselves. You turn viewers into actors and each one plays itself.
And the process is so disarmingly natural that it is impossible not to
abandon youself and slip into the story you created as a framework for
each one’s story.
For me it is a personal development experience at the highest level I
have ever lived and I want to congratulate you and your team for
everything I’ve seen and lived.
And as a result of our meeting, we have already introduced exercises
learned from you in our daily activities with children. They
immediately recognized the exercises and do them with pleasure. We are
about to order the book. In attachment you have two drawings made by
children after the experience they have lived with you. Is our way to
congratulate you and thank you.
Parent, Orange Tree Theatre
“Wonderful experience at Midsummer Night’s Dream! It was a magic spell of movement & sound, funny but mysterious. Katie & John were swept into the players’ company & became part of the show. Wonder full!”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2018, Parents and Teachers
It blew me away watching the actors interaction with the kids. Emily and Ruby loved it. As a mum watching my kids taking part was a little emotional. Special thanks to the actors who encouraged Ruby when she was unsure.
Grenfell was such a terrible thing to happen to our community, and something that will stay with us all a very long time. Some good has to come from something so terrible. You have showed our children with SEN that they can achieve more than they ever dreamed they could.
It was a wonderful treat for us here at the Access Project and we won’t be forgetting the experience in a hurry. Our clients – people with special needs over 50 years old – got so much from your visit. So thank you again.
MA Drama Student
The week with Kelly Hunter at the Bush Theatre has rendered me speechless and jerked me back to a place where I’ve felt so small and so big at the same time . Dealing with kids on the spectrum and taking them in almost non-verbal and watching them at the end of the week understanding language and rules of the game has been emotionally overwhelming. Making friends along the way was a major plus side and being able to not just love but feel loved has been completely revolutionary. I think everyone should be blessed with the opportunity to have a chance to play with these budding geniuses. It has given me something that cannot be described in words but that will hopefully show in my performances to come.
Eva von Hofsten, producer & actor, Pericles, Sweden 2019/20
A teenage boy came to see the performance one day. He was a wheelchair user and did not take any notice of us before the show started. His hood was up and there was no eye-contact. But as soon as he entered the performance space and we started introducing the show, the hood came down and with an enormous speed he jumped out of his chair and started running on his knees. Back and forth in the space. This continued during the show. He sat on a cushion together with us, he came up on his knees and played the games. He even stood on his feet once with support from one of us and he spoke to us in swedish and english. After about half time, he turned to Francoise (who is originally from France) and said to her in french “excuse moi, madame, je suis fatigue” and then he said that he needed a rest and went back to his chair. After the show, the teachers were in tears and told us that they had never seen him get out of his chair, very seldom heard him talk – and they had no idea that he could even talk english and french.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a parent’s view
“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, Tim.
As always, being in a public place with Tim 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, Tim 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 Tim was tiny – of feeling intensely anxious about his behaviour and nervous of being judged as his parent. As Tim 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 Tim was experiencing and communicating with his behaviour into the performance. In other words, they entered into Tim’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 Tim. My arms and legs had uncrossed, I was leaning forward, mesmerised, and smiling. I could relax because Tim 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.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2019
I cannot thank you enough for the most incredible morning. All the kids absolutely loved it. The actors were incredible and so thoughtful. It was the most thought provoking, moving, incredible morning.
It was a very moving experience for me watching with the complete removal of stress or fear of failing.
As a parent I was not sure the performance could meet a varied set of needs. However it surpassed them, the actors seemed to pick upon the individuals’ skill set and needs instantly, tailoring their support and encouragement in a subtle way as if they had always known them.
Elise Robinson, Head of Drama Queensmill School
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.
The Tempest 2014, a parent’s view
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!
Thank you for creating your magical isle, which produced transformative effects beyond what even Prospero would have imagined. Myself and my 14 year old son really enjoyed being able to share in the truly unique experience of your specially edited version of the Tempest.
As the wonderful and unique children that took part in this performance demonstrated, the autistic spectrum is very wide and every individual with a diagnosis of autism requires a bespoke and individual response.
My son has high functioning autism and this is for him very much an invisible disability. In many ways his autism is only a disability if it is a disability by which I mean if he finds the right job of work, the right, compassionate, understanding, group of people around him then there is nothing to stop him reaching his potential. So far my son has been blessed to have the support of a superb specialist education unit within a main stream school, specific health care, and occupational therapy not to mention understanding friends and family, all of which have allowed him to flourish. This support masks the true extent of the day to day challenges that he has in dealing with, what is to him, a very alien and confusing world. Your work with him to- day added to his development and understanding considerably.
I find the art of supporting my son is to creatively enter his world and through this act of empathy find the conditions by which we can learn to fit in with his world view rather than expecting him to understand ours. I remember reading the views of one autistic man who explains the situation this way; “everyone else is a boat but I am bike. In the world of boats everyone expects you to act as a boat and when the boat is broken they will suggest sensible ways to fix boats. They give these solutions to me but I am not a broken boat, I am a bike.”
I think you have very successfully tapped into the realisation that exceptional actors (such as the ones involved in today’s Company) have a skill which makes them particularly good at working with people with autism and that is the ability to fully imagine a world from an utterly different point of view – a heightened sense of empathy more highly tuned than the rest of us. The actors today, using their great imaginative and practical skills were able to haul their hulls out of the water in order to become bikes; the children in the show today instinctively understood this and were thus given the unprecedented opportunity to free wheel like the best multi geared trail bikes they are.
I was deeply touched and moved today. The insights from my son were stunning – he found a fluency of voice and movement during the performance I have rarely seen in him before. He made interesting observations – “today was the first time I forgot myself and was just there” – he had a totally intuitive sense of the characters and meanings of the Tempest. He was seriously impressed with the actors’ ability to change who they were. Today was a phenomenal success.
You are all involved in very important work which has the power to transform lives and unleash unrealised potential in the children you work with.
With much thanks and deepest gratitude