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  • Tarsha Cameron

Do you see what I see?

Updated: Mar 24

20 March 2020

Dance Hub SA seed residency 7-9 February, 2020

A letter to Dance Hub SA to share my reflections and thank them for giving me this residency.


Dance Hub SA seed residency day 1: Friday 6th February, 2020

Up 4 flights of stairs and I'm in. Alone for the first few hours trying to work out how, with my husband Paul, to get the video projector working. Darn it! We had the wrong cable, and it wasn't going to happen. We didn't get it working until the showing day - Sunday.


Miranda, Lisa, and Sonya arrived at 12.


During this first part of the day my intention was to ensure the artists could start developing a good sense of what it would be like to have extreme sensory challenges. So I would give them different sensory input experiences. Armed with my clinical “sensory chart” (see appendix) to inform, I directed them (with me at times) to participate in various tasks.

We started with a walking activity within a confined space (I demarcated the space as I intend for the performance to take place within a “box-like” structure) together. A range of sensory experiences were explored from seeking sight, to seeking movement, to being visually defensive. (In my notes I remarked on Lisa's capabilities - from seeking sight, to seeking movement — the way she was able to "regulate" her body by twitching it was so similar to what one views behaviourally of a person who’s experiencing sensory challenges). I knew I was on the right track.

It was of note that given different sensory experiences at the same time the performers ran away from or ignored each other. However, given very similar sensory preferences they began engaging with one another (this would depend on the difference of course; in the example we played with they all were seekers of touch) and the performance transformed into something joyous and magical.


(NB: Although I did not choose to use this delightful performance during the showing, I would like to use in the future somehow. I think it could be used educationally in a participatory fashion, as well as within the performance context. It certainly demonstrates well how sensory preferences will impact on an individuals capacity to communicate (one of the goals of this project)).


Finally, I inserted myself into the performance. I was a “ neurotypical” person at the mall who saw their behaviours as strange, unusual and internally judged them accordingly. This introduced to the performers (and would do to an audience) the notion of the behaviours being "unacceptable" in our society, when in fact they are necessary to stay calm.


After a lengthy discussion about the experience (an important step to build my awareness of what they were grasping, whilst at the same time supporting them to realise and understand what they had experienced) I placed the performers, and myself in a scenario specific to the video.


To do this, everyone was given two sensory behaviours (e.g., Seeking touch, and over sensitive to sound) and, after a period of living this behaviour, were told that they now knew that they were not allowed to exhibit these behaviours.


External behaviours transformed. Oftentimes the performer then become almost still and the tension within them was clear. This made for a very interesting performance and enabled the actor to gain real insight into the challenge. Then others were imposed on them who didn't share their sensory challenge, and their experience was amplified.


We repeated this exercise in multiple variations. Based on everyone's feedback I could see this exercise was one of the most effective tools to develop insight into the experience.


We finished with an exploration of one of the tools used to calm down people with sensory overload i.e. a sensory sock/sack... this was the first time Sonya was invited to play violin rather than act.


Two actors danced inside 2 Lycra sacks whilst Sonya was directed to play music to evoke different feelings ( starting out calm and moving towards intense). A flowing narrative evolved where a sense of calm was evoked, but as the raw fluidity of the piece increased in pace and ferocity the "blobs" manner of movement altered markedly to elicit a more stressed response. The performance was mesmerising the watch.


After Lisa and Sonya left, Miranda and I explored “the blobs” further. Playing the soundtrack to the first mall scene we started out wearing the lycra suits then, when it felt right, removed them but imagined that they were still on. This created a very interesting reality where despite now being without the sack we could not see well and our movements were both supported and restricted.


This was such an effective tool to build an understanding of sensory under-responsivity to sight, and touch, that it was the first activity I did the following day with Lisa and Sonya.


After finishing the first day, I rewatched the recordings and took further notes.


The two main outcomes of this was a decision to alter the way of was directing (i.e. to better follow the actors leads), and the need to include turn the comments I had from the survey participants into a monologue. And….


Then my brain exploded; one idea after another and I was convinced I had the makings of an entire show by the end of the 1st day.

Dance Hub SA seed residency day 2: Saturday 8th February, 2020

Miranda wasn't able to attend, and Lisa and Sonya had fewer hours to collaborate with me that day so we spent around 2 hours further exploring the DYSWIS concept.


As aforementioned, we began with the “blob” play (with and without the suits). I played drums (jambe) whilst the mall soundtrack played. Lisa was so intense to watch, she looked as if she was screaming inside the sack. Later she said the that she had really heightened emotions, even without the sack on. Sonya stated the experience made her very quiet and expansive internally, whilst having moments of panic.

I asked them both to write down their experience post experience and before debrief (see figures 1 and 2) .

Figure 1: Sonya’s internal response to the “blob activity” immediately post activity (without any verbal reflections)

Figure 2: Lisa’ s internal response to the “blob activity” immediately post activity (without any verbal reflections)


(NB: Upon reflection, and after observing the recording of this activity, I realised two things: One, that this activity was very useful to provide some tangible sensory information to any participant who may be involved in a future version of DYSWIS and, two, it may be more interesting viewing with the violin alone (i.e. no soundtrack from video). I later decided that I would start the “showing” with this latter idea).


Next, we worked through the mall scene again experimenting with a variety of sensations and social experiences.


At first, Lisa was asked to play someone who was internally over-sensitive to her visceral sensations (i.e. Hunger) and Sonya and I were insensitive mall attendees who arrived on the scene with chips. And then Lisa was invited to write down her internal experience to the situation (see figure 3).

Figure 3: Lisa’s responses to her experience as a person with over-responsiveness to feelings of hunger whilst being in a shopping mall with people around her eating.


I was impressed by Lisa's authenticity, and later reflected that from a theatre perspective this was very interesting to watch. After watching my video, I decided that it needed to be used in the performance (albeit I stated this in my notes, it was not to happen in the end). It will be interesting to use this again during an upcoming exploration phase.

The second time we “played in the mall” Lisa was under-responsive to sight, I played persons in the mall, and Sonya was invited to play violin for the first time during mall experiments. Video 2 was played concurrent to the performance, not only give us clues to the mood, to give us the cues to escalate when the actor was bumped into by a walker, and to finish.

(NB: This was the scenario I chose for the “showing”. This decision was based on the video recordings that I had already created. There wasn’t one that fully matched the experience of being viscerally over-responsive which, from a performance perspective I think may have been more interesting to watch. I can create another video for this purpose for the future performance, and/or include a theatre scenario within it similar to the one above).


The violin was supportive in creating tension during the performances. Lisa’s internal reflection can be seen in figure 4.

Figure 4: Lisa’s reflections pertaining to being in a shopping mall with limiting visual sense.


(NB: After re-watching video I stated in my notes that this was a fantastic performance and, therefore, used it the following day. However, upon further reflection I believe I will edit the “escape scene” (ie when the participant leaves their body) as it is beautiful to watch, and with a longer “escape” the dramatic rush back to the present would be even more abrupt and shocking. I also noted that the violin only beginning when the drone scene commenced was excellent).


Finally, we experimented with the mall scene once more using video 1 audio to support the mood. This time Lisa had a need to move and giggle but was not allowed, while Sonya played the violin and percussion, and I played the jambe drum.


Following this experimentation, Lisa said she had to give herself a scenario for something to give herself a reason to not be moving around. She imagined she’d been told, "Wait, don't move.” Further, that the soundtrack exaggerated her distress; difficult wanted to play but couldn't. She had internal conflict which she wrote down below (figure 5).

Sonya felt it went for too long after building up so quickly. There was no release.

Figure 5: Lisa’s internal response to being in a shopping mall and not being allowed to move despite having a sensory need to seek movement and giggle.


(NB: Post "play" I reflected on these things. Lisa did seem to be suffering. How could I resolve it for her? In the movie there is a little boy, as well as Jen, who try to alleviate the person's stress, how to do this physically. I realised I needed to bring in another actor/dancer to contain "Lisa" and connect, bringing her back to world of safety and calm).


After the performers had left and I’d rewatched the videos, based on the reflections above, I spent the rest of the day changing the videos to suit the performance I desired for the following day. As well as turning the research participants words into monologues.


Dance Hub SA seed residency day 3: Sunday 9th February, 2020: Showing at 1pm.

Given today would be a showing, the focus was to be on getting ready for this. Everyone arrived shortly after 10 but we will still having projector issues. Finally, hubby got it sorted and we could work out where to position it in the room and therefore the performance. After some trial and error I decided to project on the angled roof behind and above the performers and we began rehearsing.

My plan for the showing was (simply put);

  • Start with blobs and violin

  • Mall 2 plus Miranda

  • Mall 1 plus Lisa

  • Both dance together

Miranda played a person who was over-responsive to sight and Lisa played someone who was under-responsive to sight and a seeker of movement. Sonya and I played music to accompany them. Having now written monologues for each performance we trialed a variety of ways to read them (given I had no other way as yet to deliver the words - it would be preferable to have the words projected onto the actor). My goals being to include data from the initial survey whilst supporting the audience to understand what was going on.


Miranda and Lisa were directed to internalise their experience mores that the contrast between their performance after being bumped into was even more marked.


The showing:


A handful of people were invited, having only decided during the week to actually show the outcome of the Dance Hub SA seed residency, and 3 of them attended; may husband Paul, and artist friends Ana, and Ozlem.


The performance started at 1pm promptly, as Sonya had to leave at 1.30pm, and it was followed by a discussion of the work.


Comments that I managed to document during the discussion included:

Ozlem said she loved how it started without saying anything and that she had a physical response to it. Reminded her of being human and how important it is to have gratitude.

Ana wondered whether, similar to the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, if black and white might be used to infer the experience is different. She acknowledged that her thoughts may have been swayed by her viewing of this professional theatre piece at the Entertainment centre.


Paul’s responses were most unexpected. He was surprised, and felt curious whether the experiences were real. Did people really experience the world like this? When confirmed, he said it was important work and that it needed to be completed. For me, this was very affirming.


POST SHOWING REFLECTION:

I would like to thank Jo Jacobs and Amanda Phillips for their belief in me and encouragement to work this project through the Dance Hub SA seed residency.

This experience has enabled me to see how important it is for me to integrate, within my practice as a multi-media performance artist, my understanding of how individual differences impact on communication and interaction. It showed me that I love directing others to explore these differences to help them see a different way of viewing the world, and how important it is for me to continue exploring avenues to show this work in a multitude of art forms. Be it theatre, multi-media installation, or workshopping within educational and health settings. It was a peak experience. I need to move this project to the next stage (which at this stage is to create a static multi-media installation, followed by a full-length Fringe production).


Furthermore, I have learned the benefits of employing a professional photographer/videographer to film the showing and take photos during the rehearsal period ( I may have decided to do this if I had decided on the showing earlier and if I had the funding for it).


I have edited together part of the final performance (it totalled about 26 minutes but my camera stopped recording at 18) with a snippet from the earlier rehearsal to give you an idea of what the showing looked like. Unfortunately, you cannot see the video projection in the initial recording so I have re-edited it with an overlay of the videos. I hope that this makes for a more accurate viewing of the showing.

Please see: https://vimeo.com/manage/396666971/general

4th February 2019


Do you see what I see?


An aside: This project is intentionally an art piece using research to provide the data. As the project has progressed the idea has transformed from being a video-sculptural installation, to virtual reality, to verbatim theatre. I believe, given so much data has been attained, it will take on many forms. The artist is aiming to have the video component produced by the end of 2019.


Method:

A survey was designed to survey the responses from individuals who have sensory differences to inform a passion project; a video performance, and sculptural installation with the intention to build awareness of how sensory differences impact on individuals in an environment which many people take for granted – a shopping mall. Speech Pathology mentor, Caroline Fergusan, and Sensory connections Principal Occupational Therapist, Georgina Ahearns, provided guidance in the written process. The survey was further edited (just slightly) after being reviewed by Autistic Advocate Kieran Rose.


Post April 25, 2017, the survey was shared to In Tune Speech Pathology FB page. This was when it attracted the attention of Mr Rose. The invitation said:

I am developing a video-sculptural installation with the intention to increase public understanding of a how communication is affected by a person's sensory integration. In preparation, I am asking people who have sensory differences to fill out my survey (below). If you are willing to share your experience with me and/or know others who will, please fill it out at

Scenario:

You are in the busiest shopping mall that you have ever been. It is the end of the work day and people are rushing towards their destination; home, a bar etc. They are fast-paced, busy, and preoccupied – not paying attention to anyone; only focused on where they need to go.

Or it is the Christmas shopping season and everyone is madly searching for gifts. In whichever situation, it is noisy, people are still-faced and looking straight ahead or at their phones, it is congested and you have little, if any, space to move. Then someone bumps into you and continues walking as if nothing happens.

If this situation is one of your most challenging situations I want to hear from you.

I understand that it may be difficult, but please think of this situation clearly as you respond to the following questions.

189 responses were collected within a very short time frame. And, despite emailing to a variety of colleagues and professional sources, the responses all came from Facebook. Clearly, there is a social interest in being understood. Most responses came from the “Autistic Allies” Facebook page,


Analysis:

Analysis began the day that the survey closed (September 17, 2018). I am not claiming in any way to be a research scientist but I am just searching for trends; whether or not there are distinct ways people who share similar sensory patterns experience the world.

As the goal of this project is to use creativity (video and performance and sculpturally installation perhaps) it has been of particular interest to me to read the personal comments which really help me to have a perspective of the individual’s experience of the world during such a situation.

Initial impressions. The questions relating to vision will be very helpful in informing the editing of the video, whereas that of sound will help inform the audio. Touch, and the inside world and feelings will be represented by the performer and/or sculptural representations:

26th October, 2018

Started collecting data on extreme responses to sound, light, touch, movement, space (and combined). That is, those who responded with 100% impact.

Note: used data from first 176 respondents only as these were the ones that a colleague had transferred to an easy to collate platform.

The goal of this is to notice trends in experience, and reactions to noisy, congested, busy, and confined spaces in order to begin imagining what it must feel like for those with sensory sensitivities.

It was of interest to me how respondents answered the open-ended questions. I want to see if there’s a link between the thinking and/or experience of participants who share similar reactions.


Data collection:

Group 1:

100% responsive to sound, light, touch, movement, and cramped space

(on a scale of not at all to extremely – how does… affect you?)


NOW YOU ARE BUMPED INTO, HOW DOES THIS CHANGE YOUR SENSATIONS?





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