iA at the Atkinson: The Beginning

Shadow puppets of a spaceship and a planet.

In 2017 Imagining Autism was resident at The Atkinson in Southport for 2 weeks. Groups from local schools travelled to the arts centre to experience the trip of a lifetime - to the moon and back! The following extracts are from our blog of the residency…

Day 1 for the Imagining Autism residency at the Atkinson Southport after the get in yesterday when the team on tour created Outer Space and planned our trips to Another Planet. The crew are the technician/Robot (Faith Austin), the comic captain of the moon tourism mission (Shawn McCrory), an alien (Annette Foster) and the researcher facilitators Melissa Trimingham (puppetry, scenography) and myself Gemma Williams (dramaturgy). In addition we have some visiting guests, Mabel Giraldo (all the way from Italy) and Helena Taylor (Brighton). All the actors have professional backgrounds and have been specially trained in the iA approach.

We have devised three “runways” as flexible versions of the space environment in response to the information provided by teachers. Runway 1 is a sensory exploration with a gentle “going to the moon” take off, an encounter with big and little aliens and feeding moon rocks, shadow theatre puppetry and interaction with the various loose elements (microphone, live feed etc). We worked through guided improvisation to follow the children’s cues. Runway 2 has a loose narrative with an unexpected landing on the wrong planet, a dust storm and a captain who panics and needs rescuing from collapsed boulders (UV foam). For Runway 3, the students are a film crew who create an outer space adventure, using the set and special effects.

Yesterday we had Runway twice with two groups of 11-12 year olds. They put on their space suits and took control (as they so frequently do), delighting in the improvisation, making their own space ships, working the puppets and filming. The teachers completed en route observations. The crew included an 11 year old boy described to us as working away from class for 90% of his timetable and having “controlled outbursts.” Each student was asked how they felt before the trip, during the experience and after (and encouraged to describe themselves). This 11 year old chose his own words, selecting“anxious” “uncomfortable” and “excited”. Mid trip he was “calm” “creative” and “involved” and by the end of the trip he was ‘happy” and “creative” with his teacher noting him as being ‘more confident and attentive.” After the event, the participants went to reflective chill out space and we were given this account:

“I felt really happy that I did something to do with technology as I really like tech but trying a program I had never tried and controlling the puppets but a large puppet instead of a hand puppet.”

“I would definitely do something like that again and I think I might have found something I could use in the near future.”

“10/10 I would do it again.”