Helium’s new early years project with the Jack and Jill Foundation began in January 2016. We’re working to develop a new interactive and immersive performance experience which will be brought to family homes. In January and February the team – Joanna Williams (director), Niamh Lawlor (performer/puppeteer) and Thomas Johnston, (performer/musician) – will make a number of visits to four family homes in County Kildare to develop this new work. Using music, sound, puppetry, movement and tactile environments, families will experience the benefits of relaxation, fun, and bonding while being supported in absorbing new creative and play skills to be used in everyday life in the home.
On 5th January, the team gathered at The LAB in Dublin for the first development day. Director Joanna Williams and performers Niamh Lawlor and Thomas Johnston worked together to devise small creative experiences to bring to each of the four families. They explored linking objects with different sensory experiences and combining this with music to build anticipation. For example:
Massage Mouse. Thomas drums with finger tips on a bodhran as Niamh lets the mouse run around on his shoulder and head. When the drumming stops, the mouse stops. Eventually this builds so the mouse can visit each audience member, the mouse giving a little finger tip massage to each person he visits if they wish.
Rain Song. Niamh and Thomas make little repeated rhythmic refrains of Pitter Patter Patter and PIT- er -PAT- er respectively. They move around doing this and do it right up close to someone’s ear; they can add a little tapping rhythm on their own knee, or the arm of a chair or the audience member’s body if they are comfortable. Once the chosen child is surrounded by this soundscape, Thomas sings his rain song gently in their ear. They can move around each family member with the song if invited.
Scarf Dance. Thomas plays a lively tune on his whistle. Gradually Niamh takes a scarf out of a little bag. She animates and dances the scarf to the music. She can pass other scarves out to everyone in the room; they are all different textures, colours and fabrics. Everyone is encouraged to waft their scarf to the music and see what happens!
The team visited all four families over two days and worked on the experiences they had developed. The experience of working with families in their own homes was very special and a real sense of community developed between families and performers. It was so interesting to gauge the children’s different reactions to the experiences and to interact with parents and siblings. Following the first visit to each home, the team worked together for a second day at the Fringe Lab where they developed a new series of experiences to explore.
In late February/Early March, the team will take the learning from their work with the families back to the studio to develop a pilot performance which will then visit each of the families in April.
This project is produced by Helium Arts in partnership with the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation. The project was approved by Government with support from the Dormant Accounts Fund and is further supported by the Arts Council, The Ireland Funds, The Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Kildare Arts Office and the Civil Service Credit Union.