Interview with Courtenay Johnson

This month sees the launch of Carbon Theatre’s My Sensory Adventures, a new digital project of sensory activities that people can do at home. I caught up with Carbon Theatre producer Courtenay Johnson to find out more.

Can you tell me about My Sensory Adventures?
My Sensory Adventures is a new digital project for all people who like to explore the word in sensory ways. The sensory activities are great for lots of different people including babies/early years, children with special educational needs, people with complex needs, people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, autistic people, people with dementia etc.

As our first theme, we are releasing videos of 8 activities (4 messy/taste-safe and 4 non-messy) based on Water, Earth, Wind and Fire, and 4 Sensory Sounds videos with original songs to accompany each theme. The aim of the project is to enable people to create sensory experiences at home at a low cost and for all ages.

We will also be running two training session for parents and/or carers who wish to know more about creating their own sensory experiences.

What was the inspiration behind the idea? 
The inspiration for My Sensory Adventures came from developing SEA GIRL, a show about sailing around the world. We loved the ideas we developed for sensory ways to explore storms, sailing and traveling to new places. So, when lockdown started, we began to think about how we could still reach people and help them create experiences to enjoy at home. Our Lead Sensory Practitioner, Natalya Martin, and I began thinking up new activities that would be low-cost, easy to do and enjoyable whilst also connected with exploring the world. We came up with the themes – Water, Earth, Wind and Fire – and began playing with ideas!

How different have you found creating online content?
I have loved the experience of creating digital content! There’s a real delight about being able to share ideas and creations directly into someone’s own space and into their homes. The biggest worry is about being found – the internet is so huge that it’s a bit daunting to make sure the specific people who will love My Sensory Adventures find out about us so we’ve done a lot of work trying to find them. Now it’s the big test – to see what everyone thinks!

The process has been so much fun. I’ve basically got to play with and try out loads of sensory things! I had a moment of panic with some slime but other than that it’s been delightful. I also surprised myself by loving the process of filming the videos and then the post-production. Emma and Michal at RYG Films are just brilliant, the days were really chilled and we managed to work fast to get everything we wanted in the videos. I’m so excited to share them all with the world.

What can viewers expect?
I don’t want to give too much away! For each theme we have two options: a Messy and Taste-Safe one and a Non-Messy one. Some people love to get stuck in with hands and mess but some don’t so we wanted to make sure we had a choice.

We’ve kicked off with Water which was so fun for me to test out at home! Our Messy/Taste-Safe option is Frozen Jelly Water – coloured blue and dropped into peppermint flavoured water to give that extra freshness. The jelly plops in and slowly melts in your hands and through your fingers. It’s great in a tub or even in the bath (if you don’t mind getting a little sticky!). Our Non-Messy option is an Oil and Water Sensory Bag – using a see-through bag you use baby oil and blue liquid food colouring to create globules of blue that you can see through the bag and push to create different shapes and little blue drops in the oil and slowly watch it forming bigger bubbles as the blue comes back together. This one is great to stick to windows and watching the light pour through when you’re squidging or even just something to play with when you’re watching TV.

Of course, we have our original songs too to help create the atmosphere and enhance the experience at home. The songs have been a real joy, Therese Ramstedt and Knut Olav Rygnestad have created some wonderful songs to get you in the mood and you can even sing along too (I know I’ve been humming and singing them for weeks).

How have you been finding lockdown? 
Lockdown has been such a rollercoaster. The day before the Prime Minister advised people not to go to the theatre, I had literally just finished a run at VAULT Festival (When We Died by Alexandra Donnachie). We had seen ticket sales plateau and cancellations but we really didn’t know what was coming. So, I went from the full mayhem of a production to absolutely nothing – having projects to un-produce and months of work disappear overnight. The personal changes daunting but manageable but the news of how Covid has affected people’s lives across the world has been hard to come to terms with.

The day-to-day of lockdown and now this new-normal limbo land has been fine; we manage, we cope, we adapt. What else can we do?

How important is it for you to connect with parents and carers at this time?
So important. Parenting and caring for people through the pandemic has been so intense and relentless. A lot of changes have happened in such a short space of time – support that normally was there has disappeared and the day-to-day options of where to go and what to do have completely changed. As we continue to live in this ever-changing world, I hope My Sensory Adventures will provide hours of entertainment at home and our training sessions enable parents and carers to adapt the activities and create their own ideas from some useful tips and techniques.

What would you like My Sensory Adventures to achieve?
We are hoping to connect with lots of different people who enjoy sensory activities and learn more about what they like, what they don’t and how we can create more experiences on different themes. Hopefully this is just the start! We’d love to develop our own community of Sensory Explorers and when it is safe to do so, we’d love to work on live versions of our adventures to deliver in person to groups and people who have got to know us at home. We are also really excited to be able to provide free training for parents and carers to learn some basic skills and techniques to try new creations themselves.

For more information visit https://www.carbontheatre.org.uk/my-sensory-adventures

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