• The cast of 'Masina Returning Home', Katrina George, Lusi Faiva and Sam George (Credit Andi Crown)

Groundbreaking work for audience with learning disabilities

New Zealand’s leading inclusive performing arts company Touch Compass, has collaborated with one of the UK’s foremost multi-sensory theatre companies Frozen Light, to create a pioneering new dance theatre work for audience members who have profound and multiple learning disabilities – the first of its kind in Aotearoa.

Premiering as an Auckland tour in October, Masina Returning Home’ has been created for audiences, primarily aged 13 to adult, who have what is referred to as PMLD – profound and multiple learning disabilities.

Children and adults with PMLD have more than one disability, the most significant of which is a profound intellectual disability. These people usually have great challenges communicating, often requiring those who know them well to interpret their responses and intent.

Interactive and multi-sensory, Masina Returning Home’ is presented to meet the needs of the audience members who attend, usually with their support person or whānau members. Using words, song, music and dance, as well as multi-sensory props and experiences, the audience joins Sina on her exploration to reconnect with her history, her land and her future.

UK-based Frozen Light creates multi-sensory theatre for audiences with PMLD. Touch Compass acknowledged that in New Zealand this group of people, who, like everyone else, can gain so much from the arts, were being excluded from engagement through lack of appropriate experiences and brought Frozen Light to share their knowledge and collaborate on this new piece of multi-sensory theatre.

The two companies worked with an inclusive cast of two actors and a musician – Lusi Faiva, a founding member of Touch Compass; Katrina George, a core company member with Red Leap Theatre; and multi-instrumentalist Sam Jones. Lusi has cerebral palsy, uses a powerchair and talks with the aid of an iPad. They also partnered with Takapuna’s Wilson School to help the performers learn how Frozen Light engages with audience members with PMLD.

The production was then presented in a development showing at The Rose Centre in Belmont to an invited audience of people with PMLD and their support workers and families, as well as young people from The Wilson Centre. It was a huge success.

The upcoming premiere season comprises two shows – one mainstream version for Auckland Live’s Pick & Mix Season on Saturday 19 October at the Aotea Centre and Sunday 20 October at the Bruce Mason Centre. On 20 October there is also a performance for children with PMLD at the Bruce Mason Centre, which is also part of Pick & Mix.

The show also tours Auckland with performances for people aged 13 to adult who have PMLD and who must have a support person with them throughout (up to two whānau members are also welcome to attend). These will take place at on the North Shore at The Rose Centre and Albany Jnr High School’s Performing Arts Centre, and in west and south Auckland.

Touch Compass general manager Charlotte Nightingale says, “We are trying to reach different communities in Auckland and bring the show to them. For this audience, travel is often the greatest barrier to attendance, especially with the price of mobility taxis and the unavailability of direct public transport.

“We hope this show has a long life, with tours throughout New Zealand and beyond, hopefully overseas. We feel this is incredibly important work and is the start of a new layer of work for us. We will be able to add more shows to our repertoire for this specific audience, for whom there are very few theatre experiences available which meet their needs.”

‘Masina Returning Home’ North Shore show information
Wednesday 16 October, The Rose Centre, Belmont
11am-12pm and 1.15-2.15pm

Saturday 20 October, The Bruce Mason Centre
Auckland Live Pick & Mix Season 10am, followed by 11am workshop. Free

PMLD performance 1.30-2.30pm

Thursday 24 October, Performing Arts Centre, Albany Junior High School
11am-12pm and 1.15-2.15pm