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Hear Our Voice Opens Hearts and Minds

25.07.2019

Galway is an ecstatic city in July, with music fans stomping through the ‘Big Top’ festival tent and art lovers snapping surreal gallery selfies for their Instagram stories. In the midst of the celebrations, it’s important to remember that these submersive spectacles are not for everyone. Few recognise the need for sensory diversity more than the people at Galway Autism Partnership, whose engagement-driven Hear Our Voice project recently crossed the continent to Galway’s partner European Capital of Culture, Rijeka in Croatia.

In collaboration with artists Phillida Eves, musician Michael Chang and Gary Kelly of GK Media, Galway Autism Partnership (GAP) developed Hear Our Voice as a way for autistic people and people with other communicative or developmental difficulties, to play an active role in creating cultural experiences that work for them. With the support of Galway 2020’s Small Towns Big Ideas programme, Hear Our Voice set to work in organising training workshops led by multi-sensory theatre pioneer Tim Webb – giving way to a series of interactive puppet performances. The latest of this series took place in Kindergarten Maestral in Rijeka on Tuesday 9 July, coinciding with the Rijeka 2020 Tobogan children’s festival.

Tim Webb is a cofounder and former art director of the multi-sensory children’s theatre company, Oily Cart Theatre. In January of this year, Webb trained up actors and puppeteers from the Rijeka City Puppet Theatre in preparation for their performance at Maestral. The result was a magical make-believe camping trip. Children with a range of verbal and developmental difficulties warmed the story’s protagonist by a fire made from craft materials. Another moment in the performance centred around a fabric sky, through which the faraway flicker of starlight could be seen. New to multi-sensory theatre, members of Rijeka City Puppet Theatre are now truly inspired to put their thinking caps on, and find new ways to include the autism community in the work that they do.

Autistic adults will also play a part in Hear Our Voice, producing a film exploring what culture means to them. The group is currently documenting different aspects of the project, alongside challenges faced as an autistic person in Galway today. The fruits of their experiments will be screened locally, later this year.

If there is anything to take away from the Hear our Voice project, it’s that language is broader than we imagine. The Hear Our Voice production offers autistic children a form of self-expression outside of normative and verbal expectations. The puppeteers stir curiosity in the children, asking key questions to help them tell the story from their own perspective. As GAP coordinator Aisling Colreavy puts it, “Without the children, [the story] doesn’t exist.” Having received an outstanding reception in Rijeka, Hear Our Voice looks forward to bringing the camping trip to Galway audiences this Autumn.

 

Photo credit: Tanja Kanazir

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