A Sensory Journey by
Artistic Director Samantha O'Keeffe
On the 6th August 2018 at 21:16 my first child was born. In that moment my whole life changed. He was five weeks early and so he was in hospital for just over a week. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Becoming a new mum with a prematue baby and struggling to breast feed, sent me into a whirlwind of anxiety and depresion. Determind to get myself out of it and feel like a normal mum, I booked my son and I on to a few different baby classes. I took him to a small playgroup, Water Babies and Totsplay.
Totsplay introduced me to sensory play. There were lights, different textures and colours, objects that had differnt smells, and toys that had different sounds. I was amazed at how much my son enjoyed it, especially the bubbles! I couldn't believe how something so simple could be so effective and interesting for little ones.
I knew then it was something i was very interested in but I didn't really know where to take it. I experimented with a few ideas at home. I put dried pasta in an empty pop bottle - it made a really interesting sound and it entertained my son for quite a while, he still plays with it now. I also made a sensory umbrella (which you can see my son playing with under 'Services'). I had a big black umbrella, I covered the metal spokes with different coloured pipe cleaners, attached ribbons to the back which dangled down, covered it in lights and attached some of his lighter toys to it. My son got a bit over excited with this however and broke it, but it was a great creation while it lasted!
I knew I wanted to do something but I didn't know what. A family member suggested I look at 'Oily Cart'. They are a sensory theatre company that create inclusive and immersive performances for babies and audiences with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD). I looked them up and they were offering a six day training opportunity in London! As much as I didn't want to leave my now eleven month old son, I knew it was now or never. I applied and to my surprise I got offered a place! I was so excited but so scared at the same time! I'd never been to London on my own before.
The week was amazing and I learnt so much. It felt good to act again and devise a performance for the children. They all had PMLD. It was so sad but so great seeing their reaction to the performance. We were split into groups and given a stimulus for our performance. We were given a location, which was a wooden structure like a bandstand outside. We were really interested in the sounds it made. We had participated in a sound workshop beforehand and that gave us lots of inspiration to turn our location into the instrument. Most of our children had severe visual and hearing impairments so we decided to focus on vibration and touch. Our main prop was a broom that we each had, we also gave ourselves a character, this really helped us focus on the way the broom would move with the character and what sounds it would make. We used brushing, tapping and jiggering to cause the vibrations, we also used softer brushes to touch the children with so they felt part of the performance.
Our initial ideas came from the pond area, so we came up with water and fish. The bandstand was going to act as a fish bowl with us as the fish and water creatures inside. That then moved on to the idea of using different size bowls to create different sounds and also transferring water from the bowls to make music. After meeting the children however, we realised that they all had one interest in common - vibration. We started tapping on the bandstand and realised we could make this the instrument. We cleared the space and liked the noise the brooms made whislt sweeping the structure, we played around with the brooms and found our basis for our piece. After a music session with Jeremy Harrison (MA Programme Director at Rose Bruford College) and a music workshop from Max Reinhardt (one of the founders of Oily Cart) we really got our rhythm together and we were able to structure our performance. From there we experimented with sweeping, banging, jiggering and established our characters. We played with different types of brushes and the sounds they made against the bandstand and our bodies, we also used vocals. This built into an immersive, musical performance around brushes. The children really enjoyed it and it was rewarding seeing theur faces light up and hearing them vocalise. It was such an amazing experience and something I will treasure forever.
At the end of the week we all got together to review and reflect on our performances. I learnt a great deal from the week, the main lessons I will take away with me are that you don't need an instrument or be a singer to make music. I learnt to concentrate on one thing rather than having lots of things going on at once and I learnt a lot about the senses and how to apprroach audiences with PMLD.
Performing Arts has been my passion since I was very young. Since landing the lead role in a school concert I new this was something I wanted to do, from school I joined a youth theatre and studied drama at college. I then went to university and graduated in 2010 with a degree in Performing Arts. I took a bit of a gap before obtaining a teaching qualification in 2014 and I opened my own drama school in 2016. Unfortunately due to lack of interest the school had to close. I had almost given up on pursuing a career in drama until my son was born and I was introduced to sensory play. After finding Oily Cart, I new this was it, this was what I meant to do.
A few months after returning to Wales, SO Sensory has been born! My first performance 'Under the Sea' will be starting to tour nurseries and community centres around Caerphilly, South Wales in November this year. I am happy to finally have everything together and I am excited to bring immersive theatre to babies, toddlers and children with PMLD in Wales.