Hi! I’m Claire, the Executive Director of Seesaw Theatre. I’ve been involved in Seesaw since it’s creation 3 years ago, and I feel so privileged to have been a part of the creation of this theatre group on campus. Northwestern University is known for our extensive theatre program with countless opportunities, not only through the department but also from countless student theatre groups, each which puts on 3-4 shows a year. There are so many opportunities to be involved, and in the creation of Seesaw we’ve been careful to distinguish the opportunities we provide. Seesaw Theatre is created for our specific audience, individuals with autism and other developmental differences, and in that one difference we distinguish ourselves not only at Northwestern, but across the country. This is a new form of theatre that is growing, but hasn’t taken off yet.
In the world there are two well-known theatre companies that create theatrical experiences for audiences with special needs. The first is in London, Oily Cart, and creates innovative, multi-sensory and highly interactive productions for the very young and for young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities. Oily Cart inspired the US based company, The Red Kite Project based in Chicago. Red Kite creates interactive, multi-sensory installment theatre experiences for children with Autism. We have been lucky to have the founder, Jacqui Russell, as a mentor to us over the past few years and Seesaw’s model is based in Red Kite’s methods.
We have added our own twists, though. Seesaw remains at an incredibly low ratio of child to adventure guide during productions. Adventure Guides are the members of the ensemble who are paired with each person who comes to see the show. We gather some background information about each audience member in advanced; likes, dislikes, and triggers, and the Adventure Guide is equipped with this knowledge to make it the best, individualized experience possible. The design elements of the show are a focus of each production; each designer works hard to create a sensory-focused world that is not only safe but also fun to play in and explore.
We feel so lucky to have had these models as building blocks, and now we are moving forward in creating our own model of interactive, sensory theatre for audiences with developmental differences that can be done at a University level. Long term, we hope to have a model that can be translated to universities across the country, spreading this type of theatre and allowing it to diversify as young artists with new and innovative ideas add their own twists!