This month, Spellbound presents "Before We Grew" at the Old Stone House. We will share four performances for general public audiences of families with children ages 0-5, and four performances for families with children on the autism spectrum. Our show tells the story of a young boy, Henrik, who lived a long, long time ago in what is now Brooklyn. We explore his world through puppetry, tactile props that children can feel and hold, and gentle sound and music.
On the surface, very young children and children on the autism spectrum may seem very different, but there are many similarities in the way that these children understand the world around them. These traits include:
- Understanding and processing the world through a variety of senses, including visual imagery, texture and touch, and sound. At Spellbound, we design rich images, sounds, and sensory elements to bring children into the world of the play and spark their imaginations.
- Engagement in specific moments, rather than an over-arching narrative. Many very young children, and some children on the autism spectrum, are pre-narrative and do not rely on words and traditional story structure to understand the world around them. We craft stories that link episodic moments, rather than following the traditional beginning/middle/end story structure.
- Empathetic connection to a character. Children under the age of five, and children on the autism spectrum, may not have the same sense of empathy and connection to a character that adults and older children have developed. In Spellbound shows, we create characters that can provide a conduit for young children, so the puppet and/or actor can explore the world through the eyes of the children, rather than asking the children to understand the character's separate point of view. The characters are an extension of the children, rather than separate beings.
At the core of all of Spellbound's creative work is a commitment to engaging children where they are, regardless of age or developmental level, and to creating worlds and stories that use all of our available senses. We have always brought this aesthetic to our work for very young audiences and, two years ago, began the process of researching and developing an adaptation of our process and aesthetic for children on the autism spectrum and with sensory processing special needs. Thanks to a 2014-15 National Endowment for the Arts grant through the Historic House Trust, we were given the time and resources to adapt our work for this new audience in the production, "Before We Grew". We discovered that we were already creating work in a way that was on track with the best practices for theatre for children on the autism spectrum, and we were able to focus on how to make the experience as rich and impactful as possible for families with special needs.
We are so excited to share this production with young children and their families and look forward to expanding our community of theatre-lovers to new families in Brooklyn and beyond. The show is now in its second public run, and will soon begin touring to special needs classrooms around the New York and New Jersey metro area. Many thanks to the Old Stone House and Historic House Trust for continuing to support and host this project. You can learn more about "Before We Grew" here or purchase tickets here.
If you have questions about Spellbound's programs or work, please contact Artistic Director Lauren Jost at firstname.lastname@example.org.