Interview: Daniel Swift Talks Concrete Youth Theatre’s Winter Wonderland

Fresh from their online hit Sheeba’s Adventure to Jopplety How, Concrete Youth are back with a brand new show. This company, specialising in inclusive theatre for those living with profound and multiple learning difficulties, will be bringing Winter Wonderland to homes all over the land thanks to some tech know-how, a cracking cast and a good dose of unshakeable festive cheer! Winter Wonderland will be available from December 18th (tickets and activity packs can be booked here) so I caught up with Artistic Director Daniel Swift to talk all things Winter Wonderland and creating online theatre…

So Concrete Youth are back with a new show already! Tell me a little about Winter Wonderland – what can audiences look forward to this time?

Well, it’s a fun-filled, wintery show for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities. This show has all of the classic parts of a Concrete Youth show – multi-sensory engagement periods, limited dialogue to provide accessibility for those who don’t comprehend vocabulary in the typical way, Makaton-integration, a heart-warming message, and so much more. As with our last show, this production is a pre-recorded, online show so it can be enjoyed at any time, from the comfort of your own home. This production also comes with an optional, additional sensory activity pack, filled with tons of sensory activities,sensory stories and so much more to get up to once you’ve enjoyed the show! Oh, and The Snow Queen also hosts her very own cooking show!

This is a brand new narrative which has a broken snow machine threatening to ruin Christmas in Winter Wonderland as classic characters like Jack Frost and the Snow Queen involved in saving the day – where did this rather unique narrative come from?

I’ve written this one and have been asked a few times where the idea came from, so I’ve been thinking. I remember when I was younger and I watched a film where two sisters had found a machine that controlled all of the weather around the world, and they used it to make it snow at Christmas, but then it broke, and they had to fix it to stop chaos all around the world. I remember absolutely loving that film. When I was writing the show, I truly didn’t think about that film at all but, on reflection, I think I must have subconsciously taken some inspiration from it for this show.

The time between the last show, Shebaa’s Adventure to Jopplety How, and thisone, is pretty short…how have you managed to get together a whole new showin such a short space of time?

That’s the power of multi-tasking! This show has been in development for most of 2020. The show has gone through various versions from both an artistic and logistic perspective. We’ve been in talks with Hull New Theatre about this show since January, however it was originally going to be a physical production, but due to the pandemic, multiple changes have had to be made – the main one being the show is now online! We’re passionate about making theatre and providing cultural provision for our audience, especially at this time when services for them have mostly been halted. So, whilst we were making and releasing Shebaa’s Adventure to Jopplety How, behind the scenes, we were secretly writing, discussing, planning, preparing, writing funding bids, casting, and so much more, so we could get this new show ready for our audience, and spread the winter joy!

You’re partnering with Hull New Theatre to once again offer a multi-sensory show for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities. A Christmas-themed show must be a real treat considering your USP – what sorts of sensory stimulus are going to be explored this time around?

We have tons of sensory delights for you to explore for this show! I won’t give too much away, but all sensory stimulus is geared towards the fixing of The Snow Machine. You’ll have the chance to make your very own snow, explore falling snow, some yummy hot chocolate, and so much more!

It’s all pre-recorded too, with actors sent cameras, microphones, lighting, green screens and costumes to film safely at home. Online theatre is certainly testing the skills of the theatre industry! How much of a tricky job is it to patch the filmed content together?

It’s been a learning curve, that’s for sure! As a theatre company, used to creating livetheatre shows, we’ve essentially become a film production company over the course of the pandemic. However, it was so important to us to create theatre for our audience. At the best of times, our audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities cannot access live theatre or culture regularly, this has near enough stopped entirely due to COVID-19. So, being able to provide two new multi-sensory shows since the pandemic began, has been really special for us.

What are you most looking forward to about returning to live performance at some point in the future?

Ah! There’s nothing quite like live theatre, is there? I think being able to work in a theatre again, welcoming our audiences into theatre, so they can access work made exclusively for them, and being able to interact with everyone in-person is just going to be fantastic.

And can you give us any hints about the next project, online or live?

It’s going to be very special. We’ve already announced that we’re working with the fantastic researcher, Joanna Grace to explore the benefits of ASMR with people with PMLD. ASMR is a new sensory experience for our audience, so it’s been so important to ensure that it will be beneficial, safe and enjoyable for them when using it in a show. We’ve been working closely with Joanna, carers, teachers and members of our audience to explore and evaluate ASMR as a sensory stimulus, and once this phase in complete, we have one hell of a show for everyone to enjoy. That’s all I can say at the moment!

Finally then, can you share with us a favourite moment in Winter Wonderland we can look out for?

I think this is less of a moment, but more of a feature – our cast. We have a sublime cast for everyone to enjoy bringing the roles of Jack and Snow to life! I can’t wait for everyone to see them in action.

So there you have it! Tickets and activity packs can be booked here. The link to the show will be sent out on the 18th December 2020.

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