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.
St. John’s College Brighton Staff
During Flute Theatre I was watching over G a cheeky pupil who was initially nervous to enter the space. I was amazed, delighted and very moved at the enchantment they seemed to cast over all the learners. The space was very warm, inviting and immediately safe when we arrived and transitioned smoothly into becoming a very fun, active and multi-layered experience for the learners to participate in as well as us staff to watch. The biggest thank you as it was such a highlight to G’ first term of the year and I have attached some great photos of G during his time with Flute and this smile in the photos continues today every time their presence and memory is mentioned.
Fantastic work, thank you!
I enjoyed when I was the ’tilter’. I did it with my eyes closed and I could feel myself moving. I took part in all of it. I felt very proud of myself for doing everything.
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.
I was learning new drama, songs and movement. I liked all of the games but especially when I said ‘You’re Dead!’. This experience has helped me to be less shy.
I enjoyed the singing and dancing. My favourite game was the ‘King and Perciles’ when I had to say ‘You’re dead!’. Drama is my life and my world. This play has helped me to cope.
Flute’s Advisory Committee Member
This was a double-first for me: my first chance to see Pericles in person, and my first chance to visit St Johns. It was an incredibly uplifting and moving experience. I had previously seen the show – and some of the St John’s students – during online performances, which were in themselves impressive. But to be there in person and to witness first-hand the brilliance of the work, and the wonderful energy of those young people was really quite special. The commitment shown by both the school and Flute towards this work has a deeply positive impact on everyone involved, and I look forward to this great collaborative work continuing.”
This performance was a joyous and moving experience – I felt very privileged to be a part of it.
Lydia had the best time, she tells everyone she meets, in true Lydia style…” I was in drama…. ( tap tap tap on her chest… ) hello hello hello Lydia and everyone”
I think participating in such an inclusive performance has really helped her to grow in confidence, ( she was a bit cheeky but no-one seemed to mind that she hooted a horn in the middle ?)
The professional performers handled each individual so well, so that every participant responded in a meaningful way to each moment in the performance, it was beautiful to watch.
Thank you for including her.
I liked it when we sang hello especially when we sang hello to everyone. It made me feel really happy. I liked it when the actors moved me backwards and forwards. I felt really calm. I played with Tash and Hepsi and I thought the actors were really good. My mum came to see me and she said she was really proud.
I liked going round the circle and touching hands. My favourite game was spinning around. The play helped me to work with others.
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.
St. John’s College Brighton Staff
Flute Theatre have provided a fully inclusive and immersive experience here at St John’s. SE, a learner with complex needs, visual and hearing impairments was engaged throughout Flutes performance. Adapting to meet S individual needs and communicating the story using Makaton, touch, and expressive dance.
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.
P has clearly had great fun working with Flute theatre, but what he’s doing is so much more than fun. He’s getting the opportunity to develop so many skills – his own self-confidence in getting up and playing his part, working as part of a team of players and having to focus on what others are doing as well as knowing how his part fits into the whole. He’s getting to try out different scenarios and emotions, getting to see the roles and perspectives of others within the play. Confidence, emotional awareness and perspective taking seem very important things for P to be working on, and this activity may, ultimately help him develop the confidence to ‘perform’ in a work place. Even more important though, is that he is having an experience which has enhanced connections with other people. It was lovely to see him having the opportunity to interact and work with the wonderful company members, but what struck me most of all was the quality of his connectedness with his peers. Frequently, P struggles with students vocalisations but in this context, his tolerance for others’ sounds was great – maybe because he was enjoying himself so much? It was very lovely to see him smiling and reaching out to touch the hand of one student that he’s had a tense relationship with in the past.
I enjoyed acting in the play and I liked all of it. This play has given me a little bit of confidence.
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.
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
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.”
I liked doing other voices in the play. My favourite game was ‘one piece for me’. This play has made me feel happy and joyful.
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
St. John’s College Brighton Staff
Flute Theatre offer a magical interactive experience to every learner, the friendly welcome is instant, and the captivating performance allows our learners to explore and express their emotions.
It was an absolute delight and privilege to watch Flute Theatre’s performance of Pericles with students from St John’s College. There was plenty of laughter, tears and drama – just what you want from a night at the theatre! I was moved and inspired by how everyone was fully included and how much they seemed to be enjoying themselves. I was also struck by how engaged everyone was throughout the performance which is a significant achievement in itself. Autistic people need to be seen and heard, just like everyone else in society, and, during this performance, they were seen and heard quite magnificently and it was a joy to behold. Flute Theatre’s work is so valuable as it gives these young people the chance to express themselves creatively and to connect with people in ways that are often hard to access for them.
St. John’s College Brighton Staff
Flute Theatre have truly given R confidence to enter the Theatre. R would start the session from the door then day by day with support from the actors her confidence grew. Now R will walk straight into her drama session and take part in the whole session which is breath taking to whiteness.
I went to see my now big boy perform Shakespeare’s ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre’ with the Flute Theatre group last night. How they managed to keep 12 autistic young adults & an audience of family, friends & the wider community engaged is an astounding achievement.
These beautiful young people with autism were simply wonderful, bringing so many emotions to all of us with their brilliant performances.
I’m so pleased I got to share this with my lovely friend Donna Cain, we cried and we laughed so much that tears came rolling down our cheeks.
Families with children on the autism spectrum rarely (never!) go to the theatre, certainly not to ‘highbrow’ theatre like the RSC for fear of how their young person will respond; (noisy, anxious) or more typically fear of other people’s response, I mean it’s hard enough just walking along the road never mind being in a theatre!
The Flute Theatre are consciously and actively challenging this and supporting autism towards increased inclusion.
I’m so pleased and proud of our boy, Luke, who is very profoundly autistic; non verbal and struggles to stay focussed. I’m so pleased that he wasn’t ‘left out’ as is usually the case, as the more able young people with autism, the more accessible ‘face of autism’ are included- yep there’s even a hierarchy in disability… even within accessing disability groups! I’m so pleased I fought hard for Luke’s place at his college so he gets to be included, celebrated and championed.
I wish everyone could have seen this performance last night but mostly I wish my Tom could have, he would have loved it.
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.
I found the performance very moving, not just because of Emily’s involvement, but also the way all the student performers were engaged with and how the actors were so adaptive to all the performers as individuals with their own characters and abilities.
St. John’s College Brighton Staff
I am writing to say thank you so much for bringing the Flute Theatre to the college as the work they have done with all the learners in my group has been amazing. CK found the session very soothing yesterday morning and CR stayed in drama longer than other times this term yesterday afternoon due to the actors being so engaging and great at what they do. This morning IG stayed in a session longer than ever before and really enjoyed listening to their singing, interacting with the actors by using her hands and even standing up and joining in with the dancing towards the end – this has been uploaded to Earwig as a golden moment. The level of involvement and motivation they have fostered in our learners has been truly incredible and is really appreciated. Hopefully this can continue in the future!
St. John’s College Brighton Staff
It was truly amazing to see the flute theatre performance, for the first time ‘in the flesh’ at St-johns.
I have never seen E so engaged, she responded so well to the actors, joining in with play, singing, and over the course of the performance E’s confidence appeared to grow, she was totally engrossed in the performance. After the performance E’s confidence and communication seemed to really increase, and she wouldn’t stop giggly for a long time afterwards.
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.
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.
I liked doing my play with Flute theatre. I loved the song ‘Pa Pa Pa….Zsa Zsa Zsa Zsa Zsa…’. I keep singing this to my friends and staff. Being in the play made me feel really happy. My mum and dad came to see me and said I did some great singing. Olly is a singing actor. I feel Olly was exciting.
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!”
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
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.