Piloting Multi Sensory Shadow Theatre

Woodlands Academy for Children with Special Needs.

In collaboration with Kate Rider, forest schools and community artist and Amanda Caton, deputy head and Autism specialist.

We wanted to test out different approaches to devising multi sensory shadow theatre in liaison with pupils, teachers & parents. Our intention was to discover how best to engage the children’s attention & imagination. We hope that these insights  will feed into the creation of puppet & shadow shows especially adapted for special & exceptional children & those with sensory impairment.


We had four full day sessions in Woodlands Special School, Scarborough. The first two days were spent sitting in and observing how, the music therapist and teachers interracted with children and utilised the multi sensory facilities of the dark room and also joining in some multi sensory story telling sessions.

Based on these observations we developed two very simple, short and emminently adaptable shows (the Snow Queen and Sea Thing Child) based around a large light box serving as the ‘stage’ on which sand & other tactile and light sensitive objects could be placed. We also draped transluscent gauze over the swing hammock and had small hand held screens which we and they could shine torches through for shadow puppets  and effects. A hand held table top puppet held the focus and narrative thread in each of the different sessions and was a character with whom they could identify and interract and occasionally try operating themselves.  A pre recorded soundscape, chimes and an ocean drum reinforced the atmosphere.

We had a great response from the children who soon calmed down and engaged with all the elements, indeed some seem positively entranced! We had specifically requested to test the shows across a range of abilities and ages, much to our surprise two teenage boys were particularly enthusiastic, reluctant to leave and requesting to return! Feed back from the teachers was also very positive so we are now galvanised to seek sources of funding to develop this exciting work further.