Almost half of the 360 tickets for UK’s Bamboozle Theater Company’s recent performances in Shanghai were bought by people who then donated them to families in need.
“Some people had seen Bamboozle plays before and bought the tickets as soon as they were available this year,” said Liang Xiaoxia, general manager of Shanghai Children’s Art Theater, where the plays were staged throughout April. “Meanwhile, some kind people also noticed the program, which is in its third year, and they offered to pay for the remaining tickets and give them out to families in need for free.”
For this year’s run, which ended on Monday, the company brought three immersive multi-sensory plays — “Gentle Giant,” “Storm” and “Moon Song.” The first was created for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities, while the other two for children with autism.
Unlike regular dramas watched by a large audience, the Bamboozle plays are for a maximum of six children at a time, accompanied by teachers or parents. They sit on the stage with the performers. During the process, the actors interact closely with the children and invite them to participate in the performance.
The plays aim to give children with special needs a full theatrical experience like any other children.
An 8-year-old boy, Zhang, who has Down syndrome, was one of the children who watched “Gentle Giant,” adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s enchanting story of a giant turned away by villagers but who builds a friendship with them after saving a girl from drowning.
Zhang had been absorbed in playing with the props, such as fake fish and fishing nets, and showed no interest in the actors’ invitations to join in the singing and dancing at first. But near the end of the play, he stood up from his chair and tramped on the ground with the actors and the other children, bringing tears to his mother’s eyes.
“I had never brought him to any theater in fear of annoying other people,” his mother said. “He cannot speak, so he is usually quiet, but he would run around in public spaces, so we usually stay at home on weekends. The whole process was shocking for me as he stayed throughout the 40-minute performance and eventually interacted with the actors.
“A Chinese version of another play was staged in his school last year and the teachers said he loved that, but it is the first time for me to see him watch a live play in a theater. The experience is also new for me. I hope there will be more such plays in the future.”
Bamboozle and Shanghai Children’s Art Theater are to cooperate in making more Chinese versions of these special plays.
Last year, they trained local actors who performed “Down To Earth” in Chinese 24 times in local special schools, entertaining a total of 129 children with special needs, and they are now working on a Chinese version of “Storm.”
“We hope to stage the Chinese ‘Storm’ in September as a gift for children when they are back to school,” said Liang. “Meanwhile, we will also bring the Chinese version of ‘Down to Earth’ into communities.”
Christopher Davies, founder and artistic director of Bamboozle, said he was pleased to see how well the Bamboozle shows were doing in Shanghai.
“The Shanghai Children’s Art Theater is as committed as we are to providing high-quality theater opportunities for children with learning disabilities,” he said. “We’ve done well over 100 shows in Shanghai now. It’s impressive that we’ve never got an audience less than six.”