HandMade Theatre : The Flying Machine

In 2011 I received funding from the Arts Council to set up a new theatre company which would create interactive theatre for children including those with special educational needs. I teamed up with my long term creative partner and fellow SHRUG lady Suzy Gunn to begin a journey of discovery. Together we worked in collaboration with schools, venues, artists, musicians, students and young people to create our first major project 'The Flying Machine'. This development project has since been recognised by the Arts Council as an example of 'good practise' through a case study commissioned as part of The Lottery Good Causes 18th Birthday.

‘Welcome aboard the flying machine and get ready for a wondrous adventure! Become a member of the crew as we set off on a journey through the skies exploring new worlds and characters, engaging with sensory props, stories and songs from across the globe and beyond. The skies are our limits!’

The Flying Machine is inspired by the idea of travel and adventure and provides a totally immersive theatrical experience for young people. This performance has been developed in close collaboration with schools, communities, art venues, arts practitioners and young people and endeavours to engages even those hardest to reach children in meaningful experiences. The key approaches used in our work include musical interaction, intensive interaction, sensory environments and innovative set design. Workshops and productions encourage young people to develop their communication, imagination, problem solving and role play skills and of course have lots and lots of fun!

Young people can directly interact with the flying Machine installation, manipulating leavers, buttons and doors, flapping the wings or raising the flag. Actors and musicians facilitate the space using songs, activities and props to explore new ideas and stories but the emphasis is on the young people to determine and create much of the action. Participants have the opportunity to visit places across any time or space and engage with an array of tactile props and resources stored in the set walls.

Following years of working in educational and theatre settings I developed the original concept which included initial designs of how the set might look and the overall aesthetic of the piece. I was keen to create something which was not the typical child friendly look of bright bold colours but instead work with natural colours and materials to create something which was tactile and would suit groups of any age. I was so excited to get the fantastic yurt specialist Ben Thomas to build the set which included coppiced wood from his own woodland. The children we worked with played a huge role in the final design of the set and even helped to build many of the elements.

Every box of the set is crammed full with themed sensory props. These were designed and created in collaboration with Nottingham Trent Theatre Design students and design intern Emily Croxford.

Costumes were co-designed and constructed by theatre design student Emily Aherne as part of her final year project. They were inspired by the natural aesthetic of the set, Steam Punk and the adventures of Phileas Fogg. It was essential that these costumes looked fantastic with intricate details because our audience is so close but also practical for running workshops in schools.

The Flying Machine: Created by HandMade Theatre

Produced by Amy Nicholson & Suzy Gunn

Designed by Amy Nicholson

Props by Emily Croxford

Set Construction by Ben Thomas

Photography by David Wilson Clarke

Tags: theatre