On the Occasion of Shakespeare’s Birthday

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

The riches shown to me by being invited into the worlds of autistic individuals will stay planted into my memory and seared on my retina long after I have dreamt, woken, slept, and slept again a thousand times. I’ve had The Tempest in my mind and body for more than 20 years. In that time, I’ve created sensory games that autistic individuals can play arising from ecstatic moments in the play’s magical language. From these games, I’ve made productions of the play specifically for autistic individuals to enjoy. These shows have allowed autistic individuals the opportunity to share how they feel and think through dancing, acting, singing, laughing, and exploring this unique island that Shakespeare landed on toward the end of his life.

Now in 2021, I’m still exploring Shakespeare’s mysterious island, adapting my sensory games to create an online production of The Tempest, which autistic individuals and their families can take part in, in collaboration with Peruvian actors at Teatro La Plaza. In this way, we can all connect to each other whilst staying safe through Zoom in response to Covid-19 while we begin to build a brave new world together.

During Shakespeare’s writing lifetime, the plague struck at least six times, rendering theatres closed and his craft challenged. Yet he kept writing. During the Coronavirus pandemic, Flute Theatre has performed online every day, adapting all our sensory games of Shakespeare to be accessible virtually for the worldwide autistic community. It has felt like a necessary and vital time to be making this work. We’ve used Shakespeare’s heartbeat rhythms, his ‘loving eyes’ and ‘seeing minds’ to reach out to those most locked away and vulnerable during this time. And in return – and thanks to Shakespeare – we have made friends across the world and forged bonds that can’t be broken.

So, Happy Birthday Shakespeare – you speak to me in fresh ways each time I return to your final island. You show me all the qualities of the isle – the fresh springs, brine pits, barren place, and fertile. I find reality, metaphor and song in every word, as do all the autistic individuals who join us.

Thank you WhatDo for your pioneering craft and love – you are an inspiration to us all.

Kelly Hunter MBE
Artistic Director, Flute Theatre

The Tempest will be available – for one autistic individual at a time – to share with us from May 2021. Please sign up to our newsletter for dates and information. For more information about Flute’s work, visit FluteTheatre.co.uk.

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