Sound Symphony

1st Apr · Dawn Hawkins

Sound Symphony

Sound Symphony: A sensory show for young people with profound autism and their families

Sound Symphony has been a labour of love in many ways. In fact, from having the first idea it has taken me 4 years to gather the partnerships, hone the ideas and get the funding in place (thank you Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Creative Scotland!) to tour the show around theatres in Scotland this May.

For seven years I worked for Oily Cart in London, who are the flagship company for making multi-sensory performances for young people with complex needs (I recently became the Artistic Director, so it’s gone full circle!) When I moved back to Scotland 3 years ago (I am originally from Aboyne), I was shocked to see there were no sensory shows for audiences with more complex needs happening up here. I have seen countless moments of wonder, play and connection create by sensory shows. I have seen first-hand the power they have to open up pathways of communication with people who are considered some of the most hard to reach. This made me even more determined to make this show happen.

The Barn have been instrumental in this process. They supported me with the Research and Development period back in 2017 (you can read a blog I wrote about this at the time here:

This included a residency at Aberdeenshire special school St Andrews. We tested our ways of collaborating with the pupils to make weird and wonderful music using not just instruments, but all types of everyday objects that the young people were fascinated by.

Since then, we have gathered together an amazing team of professional musicians and creatives that I am so excited to work with. We are all so proud to be bringing these audiences to venues in Scotland for the first time. In many ways, these young people aren’t yet visible in public spaces, as their behaviour can be challenging and many parents have told us they fear being judged, or simply not welcome. It’s taken lots of research and talking to many families to figure out ways to break down these barriers. For example, earlier in the year we worked with Creative Consultant Coery Nicholson, who has autism, and together delivered a sensory audit and autism awareness training to the Barn and the other venues. We are really trying to consider all the different barriers and needs to make it possible for as many young people with autism to attend as possible.

Sound Symphony is about sound and music. It features beautiful classical music played live, but also celebrates how different our musical tastes can be. This is not a show where the audience are expected to sit quietly and still. By the end in fact, we hope that each audience member has been inspired to join in and create their own unique symphony of sounds!

None of this would be possible without my producer Mhari Robinson from Independent Arts Projects, who has worked tirelessly to support my ideas. Sally Wilson, who is working with venues to reach out to these fabulous diverse audiences has also been so committed and passionate to the aims of the project.

We’re looking forward to performing at the Barn on May 17. Contact the box office on: 01330 825431 for tickets.

We can’t wait to meet the audience and make some amazing sounds together!

By Ellie Griffiths