How can we use multi-sensory performance to extend the experience of listening?

Performing Sensory Immersion
Friday 1 August 2014
Arcola Theatre, London

A man with glasses and a woman wearing a blindfold at the Performing Sensory Immersion rehearsalsDuring July 2014, something very special happened in a quiet street in Archway, London - a collective of artists working together in a practice-led enquiry into multi-sensory performance at the Academy of the Science of Acting and Directing.

Our starting point: Making performance with, by and for people who use alternative and tactile communication methods. Throughout the workshops, a group of 12 artists explored the nature of different sounds, vibrations, rhythms and frequencies, experimenting with sensory perception.

The intersections within the group between sighted/hearing artists and artists with sensory impairments has presented us with a unique opportunity to explore and challenge the conventional creative processes that underpin traditional, contemporary theatre, including how a deafblind audience can experience performance.

Two women at the Performing Sensory Immersion rehearsalsMulti-sensory performance is a unique and largely unexplored form. Bringing together theatre, movement, dance, music and film artists alongside fragrance specialists, synesthetes, chefs, mixologists, sound poets, psychologists and set-designers, in laboratory-style investigations, we have been working in new ways, in new and fresh contexts, with new audiences and artists. It’s been an amazing experience for everyone!

Sensory performance is a growing field, but we know that the experience of deafblindness offers a rich and creative world to make work that pushes the boundaries of sensory integration and to experiencing performance. This divide between functional and creative tactile communication is at the heart of our investigation and will inform future artistic work. There are so few professional development opportunities for disabled artists, and this project has given emerging deafblind artists a personal platform to develop their craft and challenge convention.

People lying on the floor during Performing Sensory Immersion rehearsalsAt Sense, we are fiercely committed to disability-led arts, and this project will allow us to take the first (and necessary) step toward establishing multi-sensory theatre by multi-sensory impaired artists in the United Kingdom.

With support from Arts Council England, and in partnership with The Academy of the Science of Acting and Directing (where we’ve been rehearsing) and the Arcola Theatre, we brought the findings of our exploratory workshops to an audience at the Arcola Theatre on Friday 1 August 2014. It was an immersive sensory installation where the unheard parts of music were shared through intimate audience exchanges in a disability-led, inclusive performance space.

Alongside a showing of devised performance, the audience was treated to a series of participatory experiments where they had the opportunity to explore some of the findings of the project. These included exploring a transducer and hearing music through bones and a resonant cage, which is a wooden cage with a perspex ceiling and resonant floor. Resonant objects hung from the sides of the structure, each equipped with a pick-up microphone on the surface that the audience could play. Audience members were engulfed in vibrations; and a felt tepee with contrasting temperatures and sensations.

It wasn't your usual Friday afternoon!!


BitterSuite, Academy of the Science of Acting and Directing, Arcola Theatre and Arts Council England logos

Thanks to feonic and JHS for equipment loan

Feonic and JHS logos


First published: Thursday 24 July 2014
Updated: Tuesday 1 December 2015