Interview with Kelly Hunter – Artistic Director of ‘Twelfth Night at The Orange Tree

By Heather Nicholls

11th Feb 2024 | Local News

Interview with Kelly Hunter – Artistic Director of ‘Twelfth Night  at The Orange Tree. (Photo Credit: The Orange Tree Theatre).
Interview with Kelly Hunter – Artistic Director of ‘Twelfth Night at The Orange Tree. (Photo Credit: The Orange Tree Theatre).

Flute Theatre, returned to The Orange Tree Theatre this week, with a beautiful and magical performance of Twelfth Night. 

This follows their performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2017 and 2018. 

Flute Theatre, which turns ten years old this year, creates ground-breaking productions of Shakespeare for autistic individuals and their families. 

Up to 12 participants for each performance sit with the actors on The Orange Tree stage, and experience Shakespeare's story through sensory games, which everyone plays together. 

Each performance is adapted to the specific needs of the participants, however complex they may be. 

This new production at the Orange Tree Theatre of Twelfth Night for autistic people will be Flute's fourth full show specifically created for audiences on the spectrum, using Kelly Hunter's 'Heartbeat games'.  

Kelly said: "I am very happy to be returning to the Orange Tree this year to create our 4th production of Shakespeare for autistic people. 

"The Orange Tree may be little, but it has a huge heart and knows no bounds in imagination and ambition. A perfect fit for Flute."   

Kelly, who used to be an actress at The Royal Shakespeare Company explained to Nub News: "I wanted to use my knowledge and exploration of Shakespeare in a way that had more meaning and purpose so I started working with people who were marginalised so I created this new way of using Shakespeare so that marginalised people could access it." 

She explained that four keywords come up in Shakespeare's plays more than any others - 'eyes', 'mind', 'reason, and 'love' and she uses this when she is creating her plays. 

Kelly said: "My work is based on using moments in Shakespeare's plays where the eyes and mind connect to reason and love because when your working with marginalised people who have a different association to mind and body because of autism or trauma they are very likely not to make eye contact. 

She added: "There are so many moments in Shakespeare where people's eyes meet for the first time, and something connects between them so for those transcendent its less about the story and more about emotion." 

The shows are created by working with the actors and autistic participants: "When we're creating our shows and rehearsing, we're working with autistic people all the time. 

"The only way that you can get good at doing this is by practicing with the participants so our rehearsals are always with participants. 

"I didn't create it by myself, it's been created over the years with autistic people. 

"It's a totally collaborative, co-creative experience - I don't train people so much as invite people to play with autistic participants and then all together we create the experience." 

She also explained that they adapt each play to the participants who are attending, citing the example of one boy who finds himself too anxious to leave the car and enter the theatre. 

The actors go outside and play with him through his car window so that he is still able to access theatre and have this experience. 

Kelly said: "I do that kind of thing all the time. I believe that you should be able to adapt theatre for anybody and that kind of thing doesn't get done enough. 

"There is no reason people shouldn't be able to participate. 

"Our theatre making relies on the bodies of the actors and a few handheld instruments but we don't really need that we just need the minds and bodies of the actors and then we see a miracle because people feel reflected and heard and known and then the next time they come they form the habit of playing more quickly. 

"After a few times of doing it they start to enjoy it more and it becomes more pleasurable, and they form the habit of playing it more quickly. 

"Many people who do this are non verbal and after a few times they start to speak with us and do things their parents have never seen them do. It's having the time and practice and patience. 

"They realise this is fun and its somewhere that I can be myself and the combination of discipline and pleasure is amazing. 

"There's a thought to each game and it allows the children to really express themselves and really laugh. 

"The joy of falling backward just makes kids laugh and you'd be amazed at how many people don't allow that." 

This summer, to celebrate their tenth birthday, Flute Theatre is creating the very first International Shakespeare Festival for autistic individuals at the Riverside Studios (August 5-31). 

During the festival, families with autistic family members as well as those displaced by war, whom they have played with over the last ten years, will join their community of autistic individuals for a month of Flute Theatre multilingual performances. 

Find out more about Flute Theatre at The Orange Tree here

Find out more about Flute Theatre's other performances here


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