Seesaw Theatre presents interactive performance to researchers at CSDConnect

Andrea Michelson, Digital Managing Editor

[Seesaw Theatre performance music playing]

ANDREA MICHELSON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Andrea Michelson. Thanks for tuning in. Last weekend, Northwestern hosted the fifth annual CSDConnect conference, which brought together experts in autism research for a day of clinical collaboration. Between lectures and panels about cutting-edge research, Northwestern’s Seesaw Theatre offered a more interactive experience for conference-goers.

[Performance audio: “Welcome to Wanderland! I am the elf, and today we’ll be going on an adventure through Wanderland.”]

RACHEL SEIDENBERG: So we just put on an adaptation of our spring 2018 mainstage, Wanderland. So we took key experiences and songs from the show, as well as some costumes and a modified set to bring to researchers to talk a little bit more about our work.

MICHELSON: This is Communication senior Rachel Seidenberg, the outgoing artistic director of Seesaw. She said Seesaw performances are geared toward children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental differences, so they look a little different from your average theater production.

SEIDENBERG: It is immersive, which means that our audiences are not sitting in seats in the dark watching things happen onstage. Their seats are part of our set. And on top of that, our work is multi-sensory, so instead of exploring things through plot and character arc and sitting and watching things, we’re really exploring moments in the show through our senses.

MICHELSON: Seidenberg said a typical Seesaw show features one-on-one “adventure guides” who carry fanny packs of fun sensory elements like bubbles, finger lights and juggling scarves. These ensemble members are meant to ensure that every person in the audience has a safe and enjoyable experience personalized to their individual needs.

CHRISTINA LAYTON: Casting a wide net of sensory experiences allows adventure guides and audience members to hone in on what is the most exciting for them, and to kind of create a narrative and a show between the two of you that is exciting and exactly what needs to happen that day.

MICHELSON: This is Communication senior Christina Layton, the outgoing executive director of Seesaw. Layton says a simple object like a juggling scarf can have endless possibilities for an audience member.

[Performance audio: “One of my favorite things to do is to change the color. Want to cast a spell with me?”]

LAYTON: Some people would be really interested in looking at the texture or the color and want to remain super close to it. Other people want to engage their imagination and talk about what that juggling scarf could be. Other people might want to get up and run around and play catch with it. And so I think by scaling things back a bit and getting really basic things that engage our senses, we’re able to then build upon them in a really interesting way.

MICHELSON: Aside from the multi-sensory elements of the show, Seesaw also aims to represent their neurodiverse audience onstage. Seidenberg said out of the five characters in every show, she wants each audience member to relate to at least one aspect of one character.

SEIDENBERG: Typically two of our characters are non-verbal, since many of our audience members don’t use their words to communicate. We also try to space out the characters’ energies, so we’ll have characters that are higher energy and characters that are lower energy. And sometimes we’ll even have animals as characters in our show. We had the fawn in Wanderland.

[Performance audio: “Where’s the fawn? Has anyone seen the fawn? There she is!”]

SEIDENBERG: A lot of our audience members really love animals, and it’s easier sometimes to relate to an animal than a person. And I think that’s true for everybody.

MICHELSON: Seesaw’s whimsical productions are more than just hands-on fun. Seidenberg said the company’s mission is to create theater that is accessible for all audiences — and she hopes Seesaw’s theater speaks to them.

SEIDENBERG: I think so often, and we see this a lot when working with young people, we’re putting on performances and we’re putting on work that doesn’t quite represent them. And we want to create a space where they can not only see theater, but they have ownership in theater. And that’s really important to me.

MICHELSON: Thanks for listening. This has been Andrea Michelson, and I’ll see you next time.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @amichelson18

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