This teacher goes the extra mile to put on shows for kids with special needs – AutismSTEP
Four years ago, Samantha Bounaparte was volunteering at the Esplanade for a musical performance staged specially for members of an autism community group when she met a boy who was on the autism spectrum.
He was showing so much joy while playing the gamelan (a traditional percussive musical instrument from Indonesia) that she went up to him to ask if he enjoyed “live” performances.
“His mother was bemused by my question and candidly chuckled. She shared that it had never crossed their minds nor could they have stepped into a ‘live’ show as they felt that his stimming behaviour [self-stimulatory behaviour usually involving repetitive movements or sounds] would be too disruptive,” Samantha, 39, recalls.
That little exchange was what pushed her to begin the work that she does till this day, to ensure that art – which enriches life – can be accessible to everyone and anyone.
Samantha is the Assistant Programme Chair of the Diploma in Arts and Theatre Management at Republic Polytechnic, the first polytechnic in Singapore to produce and stage multi-sensory performances since 2016 to raise further awareness about arts inclusivity.
The shows that she and her team put up allow audience members to roam around, be part of the set and story, and even access the show from a distance (typically from a sensory chill-out area).
The special needs children get to make props and be part of the show.
In 2016’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, these children were the “friends” who fed the caterpillar; in 2017, they played animals that landed in Singapore in How Singapore Got Its Name; and in 2018, they were “fish” that helped clear the trash in Toby’s Journey. Because the shows are created to prioritise the audience’s experience, the narrative is often fluid and can easily be adapted on the fly.
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