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Multi-sensory Adventures in Japan

8 February 2019

This project was funded by the National Lottery, through Creative Scotland.

This January, I was delighted to be invited to be part of the wonderful Theatre for Young Audiences Inclusive Arts Festival in Tokyo Japan. A big part of this was presenting a film I made last year in collaboration with Geraldine Heaney and pupils from St Crispin’s School. We made ‘Frame’ as part of an Imaginate artist residency. It’s still one of my favourite projects, with fond memories of working with the staff and pupils over ten weeks. At the festival, we presented the film as part of an interactive installation or play space, with an accompanying workshop and presentation. The Inclusive Arts Festival featured artists, performers, audiences and participants with a range of diverse needs. It's been a hugely nourishing experience to meet people from across the globe, all working towards a common goal of making the arts more open and accessible. It was also fascinating to understand the Japanese perspective, where the word ‘inclusive’ has not been commonly used to this point. In many ways, the 2020 Olympics has opened up this conversation, as the London games did for the UK in 2012.

During the festival, I was inspired by how easy it was to communicate regardless of the language barriers. It’s made me think a lot about listening. Sometimes listening is through body language, eye contact, touch, sensory play. Sometimes it’s about leaving space. Does spoken language sometimes actually stop us from (really) listening? It was fascinating being absorbed in the many different cultures, D/deaf and hearing. It made me think harder about how to open up creative processes to performers and collaborators with different needs. 

For me, new into being Artistic Director of Oily Cart, a particularly special aspect of being at the festival was seeing two new sensory performances that have been made for young audiences with complex needs in Japan. This is the direct impact of a trip made two years ago by Tim and Amanda Webb, who did a series of training workshops with local artists. You can read a blog Tim wrote at the time here.

It was extremely moving to hear the artists talk so passionately about this area of work and to see how invested they are. At the heart of this shift is the brilliant Kaori Nakayama who has tirelessly created opportunities for young audiences with complex needs since first meeting and training with Oily Cart several years ago. It’s so exciting to see more and more sensory performances crop up across the globe, and it makes me feel extremely proud and happy that Oily Cart have been at the centre of this movement. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves with this brilliant company, connecting outwards, and continuing to share our practice as widely as possible.

Huge thanks to St Crispin's School, particularly the young artists in the film. Thanks to Geraldine, my partner in crime, the whole team at the TYA Inclusive Arts Festival. And finally thank you to Creative Scotland, and The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, without whose support the trip would not have been possible.

By Ellie Griffiths, Incoming Artistic Director of Oily Cart