Improving childrens’ lives with imagination and interactivity
Sensorium Theatre is Australia’s leading performance company delivering live shows specifically designed for young audiences with disability. Their aim is to improve the lives of young people with disability by sparking their imagination.
Through this grant, Sensorium Theatre developed Whoosh!, an interactive space adventure tailored for children of various ages with a wide range of specialised needs. Funding was also received from Australia Council for the Arts, the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries and the Cassandra Gantner Foundation.
To increase participation and community connection for children with disabilities and their support networks through the presentation of Whoosh!, an Ability-Inclusive Sensory Theatre production.
Sensorium Theatre Incorporated
Children (12 years and under), People with disability
- Whoosh! touring around regional Western Australia and nationally for young audiences with disability, their parents, caregivers and educators.
- Overwhelmingly positive feedback on the performance, with inclusion, presentation and distinctiveness the dimensions that the audience rated highest.
- Sensorium Theatre were able to implement learnings from their past Ability-Inclusive Sensory Theatre productions, to make Whoosh! as engaging as possible for audiences.
- The show was responsive to the needs of audience members and could adapt to each group who participated.
- A chill out zone that enabled children to take a break from the performance but still see what was happening.
- The set built for Whoosh! is 13 meters long and requires significant space for installation, reducing the mobility of the program.
When children have issues dealing with sensory input, they often struggle to respond within socially established norms in daily situations, regulate their mood and attention, and be comfortable within a broad range of social interactions and learning environments . These reactions to sensory input can cause challenges for children to engage with traditional arts and cultural performances. However, research has shown that drama therapy programs can have positive effects for children with mild and severe intellectual and developmental disability, showing improvements in concentration, communication and cooperation . Ability-Inclusive Sensory Theatre, where productions are designed around sensory engagement, allows children to engage in a way that interests them, with flexible audience rules .
Whoosh! is a specifically designed program for children with disabilities. The project included the creation of a space shuttle set which is transportable and accessible for people with disabilities and a music studio recording.
Sensorium Theatre works to tailor each performance to accommodate the unique characteristics of the participants, as part of the immersive experience.
Through the Whoosh! program, the children participating are invited to take on the role of astronauts, fulfilling the role of pilot, engineer, or navigator, travelling to mysterious Planet X. Through this production, Sensorium Theatre has sought to increase audience agency and pioneered new uses of technology, including using an app to distribute pre-show materials.
Impacts and outcomes
From its first tour until the end of 2021, the Whoosh! team gave 149 performances, bringing the immersive experience to 1,905 participants, as well as 1,024 teachers and carers. The show has received resounding positive feedback and resonated with audiences around WA. Performances were featured in the 2020 AWESOME festival, 2021 Armadale Arts Festival and with schools throughout the Perth metro area. Regional WA tours have included Mandurah, Bunbury, Merredin, Esperance, Albany, Roebourne, Hopetoun, Lake Grace and Geraldton. Sensorium Theatre have also been able to take Whoosh! on tour nationally, including to Arts Centre Melbourne, Bunjil Place, Horsham and Geelong in Victoria, the Sydney Opera House, Canberra and Renmark in South Australia.
“It was good. I liked the bit where we went to the different planet and found a new species. We put it in a container for the robot scientists.”
Sensorium Theatre uses Culture Counts methodology to assess audience perceptions about the impacts of their work across eight dimensions: access, aesthetic experience, captivation, distinctiveness, inclusion, meaning, presentation and relevance.
Across three surveys conducted in 2020 and 2021, audiences gave overwhelmingly positive feedback on the program, with all dimensions scoring above 90 per cent, except for relevance, which scored between 80 and 90 per cent. Inclusion, presentation, and distinctiveness consistently ranked among the dimensions that the audience rated highest.
“Whoosh! met the sensory needs of the students incredibly. The students were in absolute awe. I could have spent all day in there! The staff are so accommodating and respectful of the students and their needs. They’re genuinely there for the students.”
Early Childhood Teacher
Learning from past experiences
Whoosh! is the third production from Sensorium Theatre, and the group has been able to learn from past shows to make sure that the experience is as engaging as possible for the audience. This has involved making sure that the performance allows the audience to engage on their own terms. Rather than sitting and watching, the audience is completely immersed in the experience.
Being adaptable in the performance
While the show has a set story arc, it is responsive to the needs of the audience and the group flies the ship in a way that works for the group. Prior to the performance the team collects background information about the participants so that they can tailor the space and some elements of the show, such as the height of ship stations or modifying sound levels for participants with auditory sensitivities. The set also has a chill out zone, where children can go if they need a break, while still being able to see what is happening in the main area.
Set design is not for all spaces
As an immersive experience, the set for the Whoosh! is 13 metres long requiring a significant amount of space for installation. To overcome this, the team has focused on a hub model, where people come to visit the site, rather than taking it out to different locations. While this might make the program less mobile, the scale of the set is a crucial element of making the experience truly immersive for the participants. Sensorium Theatre does run other outreach programs which are more suited to classroom style environments.
- Critz, C., Blake, K., & Nogueira, E. (2015). Sensory Processing Challenges in Children. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 11(7), 710-716. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nurpra.2015.04.016
- Wu, J., Chen, K., Ma, Y., & Vomočilová, J. (2020). Early intervention for children with intellectual and developmental disability using drama therapy techniques. Children and Youth Services Review, 109, 104689. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S019074091931254X?casa_token=7Fjp7dx4EJcAAAAA:tMYxhaY3DoWOLAh2f_3QYXgUrn8Fwa9DhjTWSGTQLyQ9GWh-9Vm24DT4TyDYFvkYzTCeFyFr4yb8
- Mattaini, M. (2020). Creating autistic space in ability-inclusive sensory theatre. Youth Theatre Journal, 34(1), 42-54. https://doi.org/10.1080/08929092.2019.1633719
Acknowledgement of Country
The Western Australian Community Impact Hub acknowledges and pays respect to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are based, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation and extends that respect to all the Traditional Owners and Elders of this country. We recognise the significant importance of their cultural heritage, values and beliefs and how these contribute to the positive health and wellbeing of the whole community.