Children descend on UEL for immersive theatre experience on the brain
Week-long programme is collaboration between UEL and theatre company M-SET
East London schoolchildren dived into the wonders of the brain during an immersive theatre experience at the University of East London (UEL).
At UEL’s University Square Stratford building, nearly 100 special needs pupils from five local primary and secondary schools pondered where imagination comes from, learned how their senses work and even danced with elastic neurons.
The project was a collaboration between UEL’s Performing Arts programme and educational theatre company M-SET.
UEL Performing Arts Co-Programme Leader Liselle Terret said, “It’s a way into science and a way to understand that all our brains are very different from each other. It’s also about understanding how important the brain is.”
M-Set specialises in creating immersive environments in schools. The company received funding from the Wellcome Trust to set up a programme about the human brain at UEL for five days as part of an initiative to raise self-esteem in children with special needs. M-SET will return to UEL in May for more workshops as well as a public panel discussion event.
First-year students studying on the University’s Drama, Applied Theatre and Performance course worked with the visiting youngsters. The students also created a short performance piece for the children, using long elastic bands to demonstrate how neurons make connections in the brain.
The young pupils then joined UEL students in dancing to rave music among the elastic bands.
Drama, Applied Theatre and Performance student Mia Cunningham said, “It’s been wonderful. They are so brilliant and so eager to learn and gain more information. They are clever, as well! It’s lovely to work with them.”
For Mia and her UEL peers, it was all in a day’s work. The applied theatre portion of their course is about taking theatre out of the buildings where it is usually performed and putting it into community and educational contexts.
“The whole point is to interact with different communities and this community happens to be a community of children, Mia said.
“The kids are having a brilliant time. It enhances my work because I get to talk to these kids and learn from their company while they learn from us. It’s a great experience.”
Ms Terret said, “A lot of what we do can’t be learned in a textbook. The students have to experience it. I think it’s really important for them to see what their skills can leap to and how they can succeed in their practice even at this early stage.”
The UEL students are concurrently working on a piece which they plan to take to local schools as a workshop.
M-SET Founder and Artistic Director Paula Manning, a trained counsellor who previously worked as Expressive Arts Director for Phoenix School in Tower Hamlets, said the immersive experience can have a tremendous impact on youngster because it is learning by touching and doing, not just looking and watching.
She said, “It completely consolidates your sense of everything if you can be immersed in the learning rather than have it at a distance.
“I think it’s been a really amazing process for all of us. The students from UEL have taken inspiration from this project and they in turn have totally inspired the pupils from the schools. I think it’s just been a wonderful collaboration between M-SET, UEL and the schools.”