Earlier this year, Julia became a Sensory Ambassador for Circus Starr. If you don't know this company, then they are a charity providing free circus shows across the country for children and young people with complex needs, young carers, children and young people living with life-limiting illnesses, mental health challenges, or other factors that may impact on their quality of life. Their performances are Relaxed, inclusive, signed and audio described, and they also have a Changing Places approved toilet.
Building on foundations developed by sensory engagement expert Joanna Grace of The Sensory Projects, Circus Starr commissioned some new sensory story writers and tellers to develop the range of Sensory Story resources available to audiences. Joanna wrote a gorgeous story introducing a circus performance in the Circus Starr Big Top, from the smell of the popcorn to the feel of the grass underfoot, to the sound of clapping and the spectacle of the high wire, to help manage audiences' anticipation and expectations, as well as to relive the magic afterwards.
The Sensory Ambassador project has led to the development of two new sensory stories to accompany Circus Starr's winter season, and next week I get to visit two special schools in Milton Keynes to share what I've developed.
For me, the aspect I most wanted to explore is how a Sensory Story can place the experiencer in the heart of a performance so they can try on a character role and feel part of the circus, and not just part of the audience. So, my story is 'Ringmaster For A Day', a tale where the experiencer takes on the role of Circus Starr's own brilliant Ringmaster, Joel Hatton, from his jacket, to his microphone, to his responsibilities, as well as exploring what it's like to be a clown, to be an aerialist, or to be a low wire walker.
From my experiences of therapeutic performing arts, I have come across so many people with PMLD that have enjoyed being in the spotlight - I'm reminded of the sensory tour I ran for 'Let Me In' festival at Rose Theatre Kingston earlier this year, where participants spent time trying on costumes and looking at themselves in the mirror, being on the stage, and engaging with the special effects and lights with such curiosity and joy - so I wanted to create something that offered an opportunity for the experiencer to become the subject of the story and that made space for the experiencer to control and lead the pace, and to step into another character.
Taking that performance angle further, I will be conducting my visits in costume as a Ringmaster (I've always wanted a tailcoat) hoping to be led into as much as to lead an outreach circus before the children and young people visit Circus Starr for real. Can't wait!
For more information see: www.circus-starr.org.uk/news/2018-09-21/the-wonder-of-stories/