Arts for children with special needs in Singapore
Republic Polytechnic students from interest group Operation Theatre performed in Riley’s Rain, under the tutelage of the show’s co-creator and theatre practitioner Gloria Tan. (Photo: ArtsWok)

Arts for children with special needs in Singapore

Going to the theatre can be an intimidating experience for anyone. Children with special needs and who have heightened senses, in particular, may find the lights and sounds in a theatre  overwhelming. Cue the rise of sensory-friendly theatre for young audiences in Singapore, allowing children with special needs the chance to enjoy shows created with them in mind.

With the temporary closure of performance venues due to COVID-19, more theatre shows have turned to the online space, streaming directly in people’s homes. This digital push, in turn, has spurred theatre practitioners who focus on creating sensory-friendly shows, to think out of the box and come up with new ways for theatre to engage kids with special needs. 

Theatre practitioners Gloria Tan and Samantha Bounaparte are part of this creative community looking to ensure theatre for young audiences remains inclusive, even as performances go digital. Bounaparte says, “The biggest challenge was how to incorporate the sensory elements when the Internet is inherently passive”

The duo, who are educators at Republic Polytechnic, have been creating sensory-friendly shows for children since 2016. They had originally planned to stage their latest creation Riley’s Rain at the Esplanade, as part of the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival.

Due to COVID-19, the festival had to move its performances online. For Tan and Bounaparte this meant finding new ways to make Riley’s Rain a tactile one for kids at home. 

Their creative work-around – introducing a hands-on craft segment to enrich the online viewing experience. Audiences at home can download an activity kit to take part in the craft activity, which uses commonly found items at home. Specially packed kits were also sent to beneficiaries from organisations such as Club Rainbow and Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore. 

The recorded performance also featured students from Republic Polytechnic who were involved in everything from costume design to video editing and acting.

Bounaparte and Tan acknowledge the importance of the work they do in helping to create a more inclusive society and are “very proud to be at the forefront of this genre”. They hope to reach more people in the future and collaborate with various artists. 

Catch Riley’s Rain before 30 Sep, and enrich your home viewing experience with this activity kit.

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