Kelly Hunter talks about her production of The Tempest and how she uses sensory drama games to help combat the challenges of autism.
Can you describe one or two of the drama-based games that inform the production and tell us a little about how participants are encouraged to take part?
The games are short, fun and repeatable; they are embedded within the narrative of the play and allow the young people to embody the roles with the actors. Caliban's Master/Slave relationship with Prospero is a central theme of the production. The related games are particular favourites with the young people as they get to play Prospero; he uses his magic to give Caliban the cramps, as well as the monster himself in the grip of the magic torture.
What is it about drama, and more specifically Shakespeare's work that young people with autism seem to particularly respond to?
Shakespeare's plays are a poetic exploration of how it feels to be alive and how it feels to expressively communicate. Young people with autism struggle with communication; expressing feelings, making eye contact, accessing their mind's eye and their dreams, keeping a steady heartbeat and recognizing faces are all part of the autism dilemma and all poetically explored by Shakespeare.
Shakespeare's poetic definitions of seeing, thinking and loving are the very processes that those on the spectrum find so difficult to achieve. Embedding these unattainable skills within games derived from moments of Shakespeare, which the young people play and thereby benefit from, is at the heart of this work.
What are the key differences between being involved in this production as opposed to a 'regular' theatre production?
The setting of this production is different from a regular one in that the actors sit with the audience, getting to know the young people and modifying the games to combat their particular struggles whilst the story unfolds. Each performance is slightly different depending on the needs of the audience, yet the narrative of The Tempest is always told.
Can you tell us a little bit about the company of actors. How did you select them and what sort of preparatory work do they do?
It's a co-production between the RSC and OSU, so we have three actors from the US and three from the UK. All six actors bring their own specific strengths and experience to the production. The US actors have extensive experience with this work as they have all played the games with children with autism as part of the Shakespeare and Autism research project in Ohio. The UK actors have played the games with me in London and Stratford; Greg Hicks brings his significant Shakespearean skill whilst Eva and Chris will also play violin and ukulele as part of the production.