The Isle of Brimsker is the latest bold and exciting production devised specifically for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) from Frozen Light Theatre company, led by co-artistic directors Amber Onat Gregory and Lucy Garland.

Premiering in 2018, The Isle of Brimsker is currently on an extended tour, seeking to engage with new audiences and enable more people with PMLD the chance to experience the theatre.

The Isle of Brimsker will come to Stratford Circus Arts Centre 3rd – 4th May 2019.

You’re currently touring The Isle of Brimsker before it comes to Stratford Circus Arts Centre, what can you tell us about it?

The Isle of Brimsker is a multi-sensory production for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD).  It is the story of a lighthouse keeper that lives on a desolate island in the midst of the North Sea with nothing on it but her lighthouse. On the day before the lighthouse is to be decommissioned forever a runaway washes ashore and an unexpected friendship forms and they help each other to come to terms with the changes ahead.  At its heart It’s a story of transition and friendship.

What first inspired you to create theatre for audiences with PMLD?

Both myself and Amber (my fellow artistic director) studied theatre at university followed by a master’s in applied performance where we worked with a group of teenagers with PMLD and an amazing mentor called Louise Couigley and together developed our multi-sensory storytelling technique.

Following this for 6 years myself and Amber went our separate ways both continuing doing small scale sensory storytelling shows in special schools whilst gaining experience working in other areas of theatre (street theatre, clowning, prison work, facilitation).  We also both worked as support workers for people with learning disabilities.  It was in this role and during our storytelling in schools that we both saw the complete lack in appropriate cultural experiences for people with PMLD in community settings.  Myself and Amber came back together in 2012 and Frozen Light was born with the aim of creating age appropriate multi-sensory  theatre in theatre venues for teenagers and adults with PMLD.    We both have a huge passion and belief that everyone should have access to cultural experiences appropriate to their needs and wanted to make that happen for people with PMLD, some of the most invisible in our society.

Why is this play ideal to make a multisensory experience?         

The island has provided us with all the sensory stimulus we need to ensure that our production is accessible to our audience with PMLD. People with PMLD access the world on a sensory level so for theatre to be accessible to them it needs to be multi-sensory and interactive.  In this production we wanted to explore ways our audience could explore sound other than just hearing it, so we played a lot with vibrations and sound activated lights.  An exposed island at the mercy of the North Sea provided us with the perfect environment to explore this in.  Therefore, in the production we have everything from the calm serene day exploring the hot shells and cold stones of the island to a storm full of water spray, wind, lightning and a vibrating rockpool made of 5 speakers submerged in water which the audience can feel.

What are the challenges you face when presenting a piece of theatre like this?

The biggest challenge we have is reaching our audiences.  Due to a historic lack of provision within the arts for people with PMLD, people who support our audience or their families do not expect to pick up a brochure and find something in there for the person they care for.   We work closely with venues on audience development and provide box office and marketing training for staff in reaching our audience. We find that the best way to reach our audience is through direct marketing, phone calls and personalised e-mails. This can be hugely successful if a venue is willing to put in time and resources into the more direct marketing method that is needed.  We also ensure that we have someone within our team working on audience development during the shows. We think that marketing our work should be a partnership activity with a venue- we know our audience, and they know the local area.

Another challenge worth mentioning which doesn’t only affect venues and theatre but also the majority of other public places is the lack of changing places toilets, http://www.changing-places.org/.  Most of our audience with PMLD cannot use a standard accessible toilet and need a specialist toilet which has more space and the right equipment, including a height adjustable changing bench and a hoist.  If this is not available, it greatly reduces the amount of time someone with PMLD can send away from home or their day centre. And again, surely access to appropriate public toilet facilities is a basic human right.

Have you learned anything new about the show, or your audiences, from the tour?

On tour we are constantly learning, to ensure we have the time needed for our sensory interactions we perform to audiences of six people with PMLD and their carer/companions. We spend a lot of time listening and adapting our engagement with our audience based on what they are expressing to us in that moment.  When exploring a bowl of warm shells our audience may want to dig their hand in the bowl, they may want to explore them through smell or taste or listening to what they sound like when hit on the side of the bowl or sometimes the fun is in throwing them across the room.  We adapt to what the audience need from us in that moment and sometimes that is for us to just go away and let them enjoy the ambient music on their own.

So, in that sense every performance is a learning curve for us and you have to be ready to adapt what you are doing at the drop of a hat. I have now done this show over 100 times and just as you think you have learnt everything that could possibly happen, an audience member will find something new in the production which will surprise me.

What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see The Isle of Brimsker?

Frozen Light specialise in creating a safe space for our audiences.  Our ultimate aim is to create a welcoming environment filled with openness where we are able to take exciting risks and give our audience new theatrical experiences.  In The Isle of Brimsker expect a beautiful set that immerses our audience in environment of the island and the lighthouse on it. The production has a strong emotional narrative which rises and falls like the waves of the sea that surround the island.

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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