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Interactive theatre experience the Flying Machine engages children of all abilities

  • Date: 19 November 2012
  • Artform: Theatre
  • Area: Midlands
Four performers in costume gesturing The Flying Machine crew at Lakeside's International Children's Theatre and Dance Festival, Tom Walsh

The Flying Machine is an exciting interactive experience by HandMade Theatre, whose creation aims to engage even those hardest to reach children.

Grants for the arts funded project case study

This project was supported using public funding through the Arts Council's Grants for the arts Lottery funding programme. For more information on the programme and details on how to apply visit our funding pages.

Background

HandMade Theatre’s Amy Nicholson (Creative Director) and Suzy Gunn (Company Manager and performer) were keen to use their contemporary performance experience in a way that could directly benefit the community, and in particular children with special needs. So they created the Flying Machine – a theatrical event where young people are part of the performance, interacting directly with the installation, manipulating levers, buttons and doors, flapping the wings and raising the flag. Actors and musicians also facilitate the space using songs, activities and props to explore new ideas and stories – but the emphasis is always on the young people to determine and create much of the action.

The Flying Machine was developed in collaboration with builder Ben Thomas of Start in Salford and the students of Rosehill School in Nottingham, where HandMade Theatre were resident between January and July 2012. HandMade Theatre have also worked with Sutherland House School, part of Nottingham Regional Society for Adults and Children with Autism (NORSACA) and St Andrew’s School in Derby to develop and experience the Flying Machine. 

Challenges

The spontaneous nature of the Flying Machine has been a huge challenge for HandMade Theatre. Director Amy Nicholson recalls: 'Although we come to each workshop or performance with ideas, resources and an overall structure, we respond directly to the ideas and actions of the young people involved. This is always challenging, as we have to react quickly and be able to improvise together.' Rosehill School, who HandMade Theatre worked closely with to develop the Flying Machine, were very supportive of this style of working and provided constant support and feedback. 'We were able to build our workshops and performance ideas as the project developed and pull in ideas from both staff and children,' says Amy. 'We did however have to keep a careful balance between the curriculum needs of teachers and our own creative vision.'

Outcomes

National Lottery funding through the Arts Council allowed HandMade Theatre to collaborate with three East Midlands schools and engage over 400 children with the Flying Machine. Amy says that working directly with children and staff had a positive impact on the children’s education, giving them 'a chance to engage in creative experiences which would shape their learning, and for the staff to benefit from extended periods of time working with the HandMade team, seeing first-hand how creativity can further develop within their own lessons.'

The Flying Machine was particularly beneficial for children with special educational needs. A sharing week event at Rosehill School saw 10 local primary and special educational needs schools taking part in a Flying Machine session. ‘Many of the primary schools involved in this saw it as a fantastic opportunity to select a special group of children, often from a range of year groups and abilities,' says Amy. 'Some of the schools specifically targeted those children with additional needs, including English as a second language, which worked exceptionally well with our song-led structure.'

The funding enabled HandMade Theatre to work with 12 local artists on the project, which benefitted both the project and the artists themselves. 'We were able to engage a broad range of artists to work with us on this project that we may not have had the chance to work with had the funding not supported it,' says Amy. 'We were able to give opportunities to students, recent graduates and a charity which supports adults suffering with mental health issues through this project, which was a fabulous experience for everyone involved.'

Following the success of the project, HandMade Theatre have continued to present the Flying Machine at many new schools and venues including The Nottingham City Council Special Educational Needs (SEN) conference, Nottingham Regional Society for Adults and Children with Autism (NORSACA) summer school, Ernehale School and the Lakeside Arts Centre.

 

Find out more about National Lottery funded arts projects.