Royal Blind’s European Theatre Project

Posted: 30/04/2014 | Education, Adult Services,


The world of the theatre and performing arts enriches the lives of millions throughout the world. Staff from Royal Blind are engaging with professional groups throughout Europe in a unique project to bring theatre and performance into the world of adults with Multiple Disabilities and Visual Impairment (MDVI).


Forward Vision and the Royal Blind School have teamed up with practitioners from France, Italy and Germany to make sure that young adults with MDVI  have the opportunities to explore and develop the concept of theatre.


IMAGINE MDVI is a unique European Theatre project, which aims to develop confidence, self-esteem and a greater understanding of emotions through theatre. It plans to provide guidelines for other organisations and carers to use the dramatic arts as a way of connecting with young people with MDVI and to explore their talents and possibilities.


Now in it’s second year and heading towards a final meeting, IMAGINE MDVI, stands for an ‘Inclusive forum to develop Movement, Action, Gesture, Improvisation, Negotiation and Expression of adults with Multiple Disabilities and Visually Impairment’.


Jan Thomson, Manager of Forward Vision, believes strongly that it’s all about what young people with MDVI can do rather than what they cannot.  She is someone who thinks outside the box, so she saw the idea of a theatre project for the young adults she works with as really interesting.


“This has been a really exciting project to work on and has challenged us in many ways,” said Jan.  “This project is making a real difference to the lives of our young adults. You can see that they are enjoying it and our staff are equally enthusiastic.”


As the project involves young adults it has been perfect for Jan who runs Forward Vision, a transitional service run by Royal Blind for young people between the ages of 18-25, who have a visual impairment as well as other disabilities.


Forward Vision has employed music specialists to help work with dramatic arts and have fused together art, drama and music to provide creativity and fun for the young adults. The theme chosen by the various European practitioners is Shakespeare’s The Tempest, as it is a play of strong emotions, magic and vision.


“We have been looking for ways of involving our young adults in the theatre in a meaningful way, which involves looking at all the expressive arts,” said Jan. “It is really inspirational to see how all the different countries approach this very differently with very different resources. At Forward Vision, we engaged a music specialist, Karl Macrae for workshops run over six weeks and concentrating on The Tempest. We used iPads and new technology, which was great.” These workshops have continued weekly since the pilot in the summer of 2013.


Aine Murphy, the Royal Blind School’s drama specialist, explains what it’s like to be working on a project with European partners, each with their own cultural and language differences:


“One of the strengths of the group is how we share our practices and ideas.

It is fascinating to see how our cultural differences infuse al that we do. Even though our client groups and schools and institutions are so different, the outcomes are the same. We are witnessing that MDVI adults and young people experience theatre in a way that enhances their lives. It is inspiring.”


The group decided to meet at the institutes or schools represented by the four countries and started off by getting to know each other through discussion and debate. This led to their first discovery – how different cultures and languages often made them feel isolated and acted as a barrier to communication.


“It was amazing that we were put in the same position as the young adults we work with in that it was very difficult to communicate with each other and to read other people because of our cultural differences,’’ said Jan. “We could reflect on how frustrating it can for people with MDVI and that has helped to give us a greater understanding of some of the challenges, and frustrations in their lives.


By visiting each others place of work, it became possible to swap ideas and develop good practice and to see how different ideas were developed by different organisations. All the groups looked at areas such as drama, music, art and costume in different ways.


Aine said: “We each have creativity at the heart of all we do. We are all in agreement that involvement in expressive arts enable people with MDVI to boost self-esteem, be stimulated, participate creatively, enjoy what they are doing and ultimately be included in general society.


“Our young adults really connected to the Tempest and could relate it to their own lives. They really felt when Prospero left the island as they related it to them leaving the Royal Blind School and having to move into a different world. You could see how powerful this was for everyone.”


As this project draws to an end, the participants are planning to produce guidelines to be used by other groups or individuals who work with young adults with MDVI.


“There is a lack of resources, material and information at present,” said Aine. “The material will help to draw the target group out of isolation and open opportunities for sustainable development which is not currently available. This is not about spending huge amounts of money, it is about connecting with our young adults.”