Sensorium’s digital app breaking ground in audience engagement

 

From streaming productions to producing and distributing new work online, the COVID-19 crisis has forced artists and arts organisations around the globe to explore and instate new ways to engage with audiences. Innovative Western Australian theatre company, Sensorium Theatre, were already laying the groundwork three years ago with their pioneering digital app.

In 2017, inclusive theatre leaders, Sensorium received funding from the Australian Government, through the Non-Government Centre Support for Non-School Organisations (NGCS) to create a digital app. Developed over two years with the support of Performing Lines WA, their revolutionary app demonstrates best practice in accessibility and the delivery of preparatory materials for young audiences.

Up until then, Sensorium Theatre had been focused on ‘low tech’ approaches to audience engagement.”

says Michelle Hovane, Co-Artistic Director

We now recognise that our ‘low tech’ sensory theatre experiences can be enhanced when we are also able to connect with technology to further deliver our commitment to creating exceptional experiences for all audiences attending our shows”.

Devised by Perth-based creative coder, Steve Berrick, the smartphone app provides a new content distribution platform allowing audiences to extend and deepen the experience of attending a Sensorium show before and after the production.

Featuring introductory videos, songs, games and other show related content it allows audiences with special needs to familiarize themselves with the narrative and the characters, a crucial step in preparing and alleviating participants’ anxieties before the performance.

The cast’s job of inviting the kids to be active participants in the story is so much easier – for everyone – when they come prepared.”

Francis Italiano, Co-Artistic Director

“The very nature of our target audience’s additional needs means preparing them for what to expect in our shows, or giving them all the time they need to process broader concepts beforehand, makes all the difference between them being merely “entertained” and seeing them come to life as co-contributors in the imaginary playscapes we provide.” says Co-Artistic Director Francis Italiano.

“We can always tell an audience that hasn’t had a chance to use the app because there will just be more anxious or confused audience members amongst them. If they’ve already had some kind of intro to the show’s characters, premises, themes etc, then they’re more relaxed and open to jumping into the imaginary play that’s on offer.”

For us at Performing Lines WA, it also means that we have streamlined the delivery of the preparatory materials, making it easier for venues and presenters to share with the target audience.

“We always work with artists to find innovative and creative ways to connect with audiences using different platforms.” says Senior Producer, Rachael Whitworth.

“Not only does this help our industry to adapt to the needs of different audiences, but it provides creative challenges for artists to think outside the box – supported by our producing team.”

What were some of the challenges?

“As with all our work, creating the app relied on lots of trialling with, and feedback from, the audience it’s intended for. It was a challenge to keep our trademark interactivity, but still make it something that would appeal to and benefit a pretty broad spectrum of needs – so that children of all sorts would benefit from using it.” shares Francis Italiano.

“Getting the balance right came down to avoiding outcome-driven activities, and allowing a latitude of engagement so that they could experience the same kind of free-agency in the app as they do in our shows.”

Since its launch, the digital app has been used by hundreds of audiences around the world, including for seasons of Oddysea at Awesome Festival (Perth 2018), the Lincoln Center’s Big Umbrella inaugural festival for children on the autism spectrum (2018), the Artground in Singapore (2018 & 2019), and premiere seasons of Whoosh at the Sydney Opera House and Arts Centre Melbourne (2019).

I am delighted to say I am bringing a group to Whoosh at the Sydney Opera House. But I just wanted to say how marvellous your app and website is, I am very impressed and it is wonderful.”

Penelope Malc, Assistant Principal at Wairoa Special School

In 2019, Sensorium Theatre won the inaugural Australian Access Award for Best Digital App in the Non-for-Profit/Community Category.

Download the app

The app is free to download for iOS and Androids tablets and smartphones, and is also available as a web app designed specifically for classroom whiteboards.

•For iPads and iPhones
•For Android devices
•For computer screen and interactive whiteboard

App facts

Length of the project: 2 years – 12 months of research and development, and 12 months of production and testing.

Team involved: Creative coder and app developer Steve Berrick, Co-Artistic Directors Michelle Hovane and Francis Italiano and Performing Lines WA Project Manager, Cecile Lucas.

Budget: $83,500, predominantly funded by the Australian Government, through the Non-Government Centre Support (NGCS)

About Sensorium Theatre

Sensorium Theatre is Australia’s only company making live performance specifically designed to spark the imaginations of young audiences with disabilities. Based in Western Australia and formed in 2010 by co-Artistic Directors Michelle Hovane and Francis Italiano, their shows and programs are developed in collaboration with their target audience to ensure they are tailored to their specific needs.

Find out more about Sensorium

About Steve Berrick

Steve is a creative coder with a history of collaborative development of interactive creative interfaces for arts audiences. Some his projects include DADAA WA’s digital app that enables people with high support needs to create artworks through an interactive touch screen environment.

Find out more about Steve

Other similar digital apps

While Sensorium is the only Australian theatre company to have developed a smartphone app to engage with their audiences, other pioneering companies around the world include Scotland-based Catherine Wheel Theatre Company and their app White and Ailie Cohen Puppet Maker / Unicorn production and their app Secret Suitcase, both created by Hippotrix.

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