Theatre Royal’s SENsory Youth Theatre

A little over a year ago, Theatre Royal announced a new partnership with GeeWizz Charitable Foundation who would be supporting their new Non Verbal Youth Theatre groups from 2023 to 2025.

As the theatre embarks on their second year of providing these wonderful new groups and the first year of GeeWizz funding, they reflect on the successes of the past year, announce a new name for the groups – SENsory Youth Theatre and introduce a brand-new group for 4 to 7 year olds.

Since launching in September 2021, 19 young people who are neurodivergent, learning disabled or identify as having other sensory needs have participated in SENsory Youth Theatre across a total of 58 sessions and the theatre practitioners who facilitate the groups have seen remarkable milestones achieved.

“When Finley (aged 7) first joined us he was insular and disengaged. After a couple of months of attending SENsory Youth Theatre we notice that Finley liked to interact with the bright colourful spots used within activities. Finley was non-verbal and often made no sounds within our sessions, however during this particular session, he was making noises, largely interacting with the objects at hand and engaging with others in the room. At the next session Finley was more energetic and happy to see us. His participation in the activities increased, especially the creative play which involved different materials and colour.”

“When Lily (aged 17) first came to our sessions, she would sit in the circle, observing but not participating. She would shake her head and refuse to engage with any of the activities. She would often hide around the corner and despite coaxing from the facilitators to join in, she would make up reasons to sit out. This is perfectly normal and we encourage participants to join in when they are ready – regardless of how long this might take.  Slowly but surely, as the weeks went on Lily began to show interest in some of the activities. She would ask for a specific facilitators to join in with her. She would become more vocal in her responses. The hiding around the corner stopped and she became friends with the others in the group and would even join in group games.”

For parents who often remain with their children during the sessions, this development is a joy to see. “My child enjoys going to the group and comes out of the theatre with a spring in his step and a smile on his face.” said one parent.

With another commenting, “Our child has had a wonderful time enjoying every session. Her self-confidence has grown with each week, so much so that during the ‘warm up’ she tries to lead the activity. She has made friends with all the other children attending and the staff. She has become so relaxed that ear defenders are no longer needed during the sessions.”

The funding provided by the very special charity GeeWizz who support children and young adults in Suffolk and Norfolk who suffer from life-threatening conditions, a disability or cancer, ensures that these groups will be available for the children of Suffolk until 2025.

Aileen Belsberg, GeeWizz CEO is looking forward to what the future holds for these groups “GeeWizz are proud to be supporting Theatre Royal’s SENsory Youth Theatre programme, one which provides local SEN children the opportunity to enjoy creative play and learning. Made possible by the Ed Sheeran: Made in Suffolk Legacy Auction and many generous supporters, this project is a labour of love for all those involved. A unique programme in West Suffolk, which I am excited to watch grow in the years to come.”

SENsory Youth Theatre is an extension of the theatre’s already successful Youth Theatre programme and support young people who are learning disabled, neurodivergent or identify as having other sensory needs.  These interactive sessions build their confidence, help them to make new friends and encourage participation in creative play. By leaning into a mostly non-verbal delivery style from the facilitators, this allows all young people to take ownership of activities facilitated by Theatre Royal’s team of highly skilled practitioners and express themselves within a creative process that is accessible to their creative differences.

Theatre Royal’s Head of Creative Learning, David Whitney, is excited about the positive impact these groups have, ”SENsory Youth Theatre is some of the most important work we deliver at Theatre Royal. It’s really vital that we provide accessible and inclusive creative learning opportunities that are not elitist, that meet the participants needs and the level they are currently working at. We have seen so many people flourish from a programme that is all about embracing people’s differences and in the words of Open Theatre, our consultants for this programme “Doing Difference Differently”. One of the highlights for me is when at the end of the year we do our celebration and bring in a company to perform for and with the participants. The Junk Orchestra this year were a delight and it was great to see a participatory led performance by a group of young people who often get underestimated and absolutely owned that space.”

Booking Information

In addition to the two groups already in existing, one for 8-12 and another for ages 13-18, the new year will see the addition of a third group for ages 4-7.

Age 4 to 7 Saturday 10:00- 10:40am at Theatre Royal

Age 8 to 12 Tuesday 4pm – 4.40pm at Theatre Royal

Age 13 to 18 Tuesday 5pm – 5.40pm at Theatre Royal

To register interest participants should email enagagement@theatreroyal.org
We believe that finances should never be a barrier to engagement and therefore have a small number of bursary places available to those in need of it.

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