A show for all senses

A theatre company takes multi-sensory shows on the road for audiences with profound disabilities. It’s a lot of fun and influences mainstream arts, say Lucy Garland and Amber Onat Gregory

Audience with lights at show

A decade ago, Frozen Light began creating original, multi-sensory theatre shows for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD).

In 2016, it was the first company to take a show for such audiences to the Edinburgh Fringe and has toured to 70 theatres and arts venues across the UK since 2023.

Here are 10 things the Norwich-based company has learnt in 10 years.

Everything is an offer

Our shows are an offer of a theatre experience. Audiences can engage how they choose.

We aim for this to be a good time, and we work with an audience who often have so little opportunity to exert control on their lives. By creating an offer and respecting a “no”, we allow people to curate the experience they want to have.

Audience demand outweighs what we can provide

There is huge demand for sensory theatre, especially for adults. We are the only company making work specifically for adults and touring it to venues. We want to encourage more people to think about making sensory theatre for this audience – it really is a lot of fun.

Joy is a tool for activism

When we started, we didn’t realise we would also become advocates and activists. But society is still so ignorant of the needs of this group and we have found ourselves in this position. We are able to fight for access with passion and joy.

Listen with all your senses: it’s a gift

Our audiences – people who communicate in a non-linguistic way – have taught us to listen with all our senses. If you open yourself up to communicate with someone whose communication method is different from your own, you can learn more about what it means to be human.

Listen to your audiences

Everything we do is guided by the voices of our audiences; we learn from their responses and take this into our next work. Our audiences are our best teachers – all we have to do is listen.

Think outside the box

Our theatre has been called a full 3D experience. For one show, when we were in the year 2065 in a dystopian future, we spent time inventing sensory props to represent futuristic devices. That was when a light-up, vibrating, squidgy tube box was born – a surveillance device.

Time, time and more time

Time is crucial when working with this audience. Time to listen to each other, time to ask “what do you need from me?”, time to process what is happening, time to explore.

We have a project called the Sensory Studio where we collaborate with four artists with PMLD. This is a deliberately slow-moving project that allows us to learn from our artists and feed this directly into our productions.

Use your platform to amplify others’ voices

We can use our platform to amplify the voices of our audiences, to advocate for them in the theatre and arts sector and to push for more and better arts provision.

During the pandemic, we realised our audiences’ stories were not being told so we started a podcast to amplify these voices and share the realities of life during Covid.

Sensory theatre teaches us so much

It is much more than just an art form. It can teach us about how
to approach the world a little differently, with more lightness, connection and confetti.

Visibility is vital

Over our years of putting our work into theatres and arts and heritage venues, we have seen the change that welcoming people with PMLD can make. Some theatres have committed to staging more sensory theatre and some have invested in Changing Places toilets.

None of this would have happened if their staff had never met our audiences and seen the value they can add to their spaces.

Lucy Garland and Amber Onat Gregory are artistic directors and joint chief executive officers at Frozen Light

Review: Louche and luxurious