Professional actor Anni Rhodes-Steere founded Head2Head Sensory Theatre in 2006, after an experience she had working with young people at the RNIB:
“David had no sight, was too shy to speak and was unable to move independently because of his physical disabilities, but I discovered he was able to repeat verbatim anything he heard. So, when we put on a show, he recited some lines of Shakespeare and brought the house down! His father told me afterwards that drama was the only way David could access the world, and I knew I needed to help young people like this.”
Head2Head began by taking its shows to special schools and units within mainstream schools, ensuring each performance was accessible to every young person there.
It became a volunteer-led charity in 2015, and currently has a team of 12 experienced actors, all of whom are Makaton trained. Its programme has evolved to include a range of immersive educational and storytelling plays and workshops which it takes into schools, as well as family shows which are open to the public.
(Head2Head actors in a scene from their show, Odie's Odd Odyssey)
Before each visit, Head2Head sends out a resource pack, filled with Widgit symbol storylines and song lyrics, plus photos of the characters and sets, which help the children understand what to expect when the theatre arrives. Everything is done to music, and includes many sensory props for the young people to interact with.
“We don’t perform to an audience, but among the audience. We are flexible to the young people’s needs: anybody who can’t sit in one place for long can get up and move about, or visit our chillout zone if they’re feeling overwhelmed. We’re working with people with profound and multiple learning difficulties, so we do everything we can to ensure everybody feels comfortable and included.”
A new home
In December 2021, after many years of peripatetic working, Head2Head purchased Drewshearne Barn, Oxted, providing them with a permanent base, albeit one which needs extensive refurbishment:
“It has the potential to become a fantastic performance space: we plan to run drama workshops, as well as continuing to offer work experience and paid opportunities, which help students with disabilities enrich their lives.”
The theatre has received support from the local community, including the Book Exchange and the RSA Group, as well as from organisations such as Screwfix, B&Q, the National Lottery and Awards 4 All.
“However, to fully include everybody we need a purpose-built hygiene room, with hoist and changing bed, so we hav to raise money to do this. The organisation Wooden Spoon, which funds projects that benefit young people with disabilities, has expressed interest in supporting our fundraising, but we still need to find £10,000.”
To donate, and to find out more about opportunities available at Head2Head (including a part-time administrator role or volunteering at weekly coffee mornings) contact Anni: email@example.com or 01372 278021. Visit h2hsensorytheatre.com.
(Anni Rhodes-Steere raising awareness of Head2Head Sensory Theatre)