Executive Producer Mhari Robinson reflects on IAP’s experience of making sensory theatre with Ellie Griffiths and how this led to us seeking funding to create the Sensory Collective.

For Independent Arts Projects (IAP), the Sensory Collective has come about because we worked with Ellie Griffiths in 2018 and 2019 and collaborated with her to produce her theatre production, Sound Symphony – which was made for and with young people with complex autism. 

Sound Symphony was made exclusively for the smallest audiences – a maximum of 8 young people as well as their families and/or carers. A group of people who were excluded from most arts activity, and who are not catered for through relaxed performances. 

Photo: Brian Hartley / Stillmotion. Pictured: Ellie Griffiths & audience at Sound Symphony in 2019

Ellie’s approach put the people with the most complex needs first in the process.  This felt like a huge change from the ‘norm’ of creating work with non-disabled, neurotypical people centred, and “access” being dealt with once the work has been developed, almost always feeling like an afterthought. 

IAP supported Sound Symphony by Ellie Griffiths in late 2018 with development, then premiered and presented across Scotland in May 2019, in association with Capital Theatres. The production was developed with young people from St Crispin’s School and Action for Children in Edinburgh, as well as a brilliant team of supporting artists, arts workers and production staff, with support from Creative Scotland, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Barrowland Ballet

The process was very new for me, it redefined what inclusive ways of working could be and I found it hugely fulfilling work – the learning curve, the collaboration and the response from young people, their families and carers was incredible. This felt to me like essential work, and I was so proud that our new company could be a part of it making that happen. 

Photo: Brian Hartley / Stillmotion. Pictured: Shiori Usui and audience at Sound Symphony

“I thought it was incredible. Every child engaged and participated in their own way. The children were encouraged to be themselves through the whole performance, it was very emotional at times.” 

(Audience member, May 2019)

Sound Symphony was received really well, with invitations to present the work at Festivals, four and five star reviews and two award nominations from New Music Scotland and the Critics Awards for Children in Scotland

The show was described as an exquisite work, and shortly afterwards Ellie left Scotland for London to take up her role with Oily Cart as Artistic Director.  We had planned a tour of Festivals in Scotland venues across the UK and beyond for 2020 which inevitably didn’t come off. And this spring Sound Symphony finally tours again in co-production with Oily Cart. 

“As beautifully conceived in its visual and tactile dimensions as in its music and sound, Sound Symphony is a brilliantly crafted, wonderfully benign, deeply moving piece of theatre. ” 

★★★★★, Mark Brown,Herald on Sunday/National

After three years, the fantastic team are currently in rehearsals at NTS Rockvilla in Glasgow and in a few short weeks, they’ll open the show as part of Edinburgh International Children’s Festival in the French Institute (which is very ‘oh la la’ on the Royal Mile for eight sold out shows for ASN schools.

You can read all about the project, the idea behind it and view trailers, etc: http://www.independentartsprojects.com/sound-symphony-by-ellie-griffiths/

There’s also a website here (best used on Desktop) where you can compose your own Sound Symphonyhttps://soundsymphony.co.uk

Mhari Robinson
Executive Producer, IAP

PS – Big thanks to Fiona Ferguson, (Creative Development Director at Imaginate) who introduced me to Ellie Griffiths in September 2017, a couple of months before I even registered IAP as a company. That worked out well. 

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