Making Jamboree: A Blog from Ellie

Jamboree is Oily Cart’s new piece of sensory gig-theatre made for and with teenagers with profound and multiple disabilities. It will tour in Autumn 2019 and Spring 2020. Here Artistic Director Ellie Griffiths talks about the creative process…

The idea

I love going to gigs and am often struck by how much more relaxed and welcoming they can feel in comparison to theatre. Last year I was at a Balkan music gig where we could feel the vibrations of the tuba through the floor. Everyone, of all ages, was up and dancing. It was a really inclusive, sensory experience, where the audience were able to express themselves just as much as the performers. By making a piece of sensory gig-theatre, I wanted to make something age appropriate for a teen audience, that made space for each person onstage and in the audience to be the boldest version of who they are. (I also just wanted it to be really fun. I’ve been inspired by organisations Sprog Rock and Bubble Club, who take their fun extremely seriously!) 

The process

In making Jamboree we have explored a co-creation process with teenagers labelled as having profound and multiple disabilities. This began by embedding two musicians in a school to jam with young people who communicate in a huge range of ways. The musicians had to follow each pupil’s lead and value their input as equal musicians, which often challenged their own biases of what music ‘should’ sound like. We grandly labelled this a ‘co-composition’ process, soon realising (with the help of evaluator Joe Wright) that to do this meaningfully would take much more time and contact than we could achieve within the scope of this project. 

Child's foot resting on bell of a sousaphone which is being held by the musician, in order to feel the vibrations when it is played.

We did however find a way of growing the show out of seeds of input from young people we jammed with. In one case this was a melody line based on a vocalisation. One pupil’s interest in the noise of a metal slinky rattled against a wall led us to make a slinky instrument which leads a whole noise jam section of the show. 

“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed – to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is”

Parker J Palmer

All the creative work rippled outwards from these seeds of input, to build an experience directly inspired and influenced by our collaboration with the students. The musicians and Musical Director Max Reinhardt created compositions which centered around them as musical ideas. Flavio Graff, the Designer, and I then created sensory and visual effects to compliment these compositions and structured them into a satisfying atmospheric journey through the show. The co-creation approach threw up surprises that were greater than any show I could’ve thought up in my head. 

Feeding into this as a core band member was Jovana Backovic, a folk singer from Serbia, with a PhD in Balkan music. She identified a synergy between the ways we were making the show and the natural journeys of folk music: from source, to being interpreted and passed on orally. In the tour, each week the band will arrive at a new place and jam with young people there to influence the music in the gig at the end of that week, so each will feel distinct and unique to the young people in the audience. 

Attempting an Inclusive process

A learning curve for me in this project was making our creative process more inclusive for our diverse cast. Robyn Steward, who is a cast member but also an internationally respected autism consultant, gave me great advice on using visual scores and scripts. She highlighted how many of the standard ways we devise work can create barriers. A lot of this is finding ways to make people feel safe in all the unknowns, and making sure the performers have a sense of ownership and control at every point. It’s always confronting and difficult to realise areas where your well-intentioned efforts are failing. I was continually faced with my own assumptions and neurotypical biases throughout this process. I’m hugely grateful to Robyn for her generosity and patience!

Panel of images, drawn in red pen. The first image is stars at the end of lines coming out of a person's mouth. The second is a clarinet. The third is a stick figure jumping on top of a drum. The fourth is hands clapping. The fifth is arrows shooting towards a clarinet. The sixth is footsteps coming out of a sousphone, lines indicating noise coming from a person's mouth, and a tortoise.
Visual script from Jamboree rehearsals

The future

At Oily Cart we all feel really passionate about the themes of this show – about young people who are non-verbal being listened to. So much power in this country is rooted in verbal language. We hope to use our #amplify campaign over the next year to amplify the voices of young people who are non-verbal as artists and creators that can and should have influence on the world we live in.

Family in the audience of a Jamboree performance interacting with the sousaphone player and feeling the instrument's vibrations.