You are on page 1of 2


Advisory teacher Keith Park and speech and language therapist Nevin Gouda tell Avril Nicoll about interactive storytelling, and how anyone can do it - even you.

A midsummer nights conversation H

eres looking at you, kid. Keith Park does a mean impression of Humphrey Bogart. And for that matter John Wayne, Prince Charles, Peter Sellers, Bob Hoskins and even Darth Vader. He makes a pretty good job of Welsh and Scottish accents as well as Cockney, and throws in some Arabic and Hebrew for good measure. Appropriately, Im at the Globe Theatre on Londons south bank to meet interactive storytelling guru Keith Park and speech and language therapist Nevin Gouda. Im keen to understand more about how interactive storytelling works for people with complex support needs, and how easily it could be incorporated into everyday settings and activities. Keith is an advisory teacher for SENSE (The National Deafblind Rubella Association) in Lewisham, London. While I am in the process of researching a feature on new builds specially designed for people with communication difficulties, Keith is taking people with the highest support needs to the Globe Theatre stage to re-enact Shakespeare plays in several community languages as well as English. Interactive storytellings experiential nature quickly becomes clear - and, rather than wondering how great literature can be made accessible to people with profound and multiple disabilities, my thoughts turn to how on earth I can make interactive storytelling accessible to readers via a printed article...

A human level
Keith wants to get away from specially constructed settings and the dreaded functional vocabulary to high status venues and participation in fun activities. He dislikes the way that a lot of special education is devoid of humour, a grind, and wants to animate people and get them more involved on a human level. Again and again he talks of interactive storytelling leading to his clients doing things that people with learning disabilities are not supposed to do. Interactive storytelling began in 1987 with Homers Odyssey, in collaboration with Nicola Grove, as a reaction against seeing a group of adults with learning disabilities being led in a rendition of If youre happy and you know it. Since then it has snowballed, and culminated in the recent publication of a book (see our reader offer). The scope of interactive storytelling is as wide as we want it to be - from Shakespeare and classic writers through poetry, film, television and our own experience. By making it a rich multisensory experience, everyone can be included, whatever their level of ability - and they will often surprise with what they can do. So far, the Shakespeare work has included A Midsummer Nights Dream (see Speech &
Nevin Gouda and Keith Park outside the Globe Theatre


Language Therapy in Practice, Spring 2002), Romeo & Juliet and Othello. Part of the star crossed lovers season at the Globe, the relevance of Romeo & Juliet to modern day life is clear, as Keith and Nevins version sets the Montagues and Capulets as Jews and Arabs, both talking of peace and of learning lessons, but with the cycle of destruction ultimately continuing. Keith has just learned that the Globe has agreed to make its stage available to his groups for at least eight Mondays in its closed season, and is excited at the prospect of seeing Othello enacted on the famous stage, to coincide with the current Shakespeare and Islam theme. Nevin - who is also Keiths Arabic adviser - and Keith collaborated for several months to produce an accessible version of Othello (see figure 1). But surely it must be difficult to teach Othello to people with learning disabilities? On the contrary, Nevin assures me, the Lewisham College students involved took just two goes to master it. Othello uses three languages - English extracts of original Shakespearean text, Arabic (which would

probably have been Othellos first language) and signs from British Sign Language. Nevin is enthusiastic about the benefits of interactive storytelling, not just for the students themselves, but for staff training. She had faced the frustrations of many in our profession when tutors were reluctant to attend signing groups. Interactive storytelling has allowed the desire for training to happen naturally, as the tutors have seen the benefits in a real situation and are asking her for more. Shakespeare is not exactly top of many school pupils lists, so why would it appeal to children and adults with complex support needs? Keith points out that most of Shakespeares audience would have been illiterate, so the meaning had to come from what they observed on stage. His work therefore lends itself beautifully to different codes and registers, and is strongly emotional, rhythmical and directional (me/you/him/her/all of you), giving many opportunities for over-the-top and melodramatic gesture, sounds and acting. Furthermore, in the plotlines you can find oppor-


Figure 1 Othello Interactive Storytelling Group, Lewisham College

Readers of Speech & Language Therapy in Practice are welcome to join in the Othello interactive storytelling workshops at Shakespeares Globe Theatre, on Monday and Friday mornings, from 10.30-11.30am from Monday October 4th to Friday December 10th (except for the week of half-term, beginning October 28th). Workshop participants will include teenagers and adults with severe and profound learning disabilities. Please contact Keith Park (e-mail; tel/fax 020 8699 6098; mobile 07791 174 740) for more details. (NB Please do not try to contact the Globe Theatre directly.)

Students signing vengeance

tunities to explore stages of development. For example, if you want Theory of Mind, look no further than Macbeth, when a murderer has to pin the deed on someone else. A minimalist approach is very deliberate. There are no costumes and only rarely are props used, so that students engage with the script itself. The emphasis is on the interactive - the aim is language and communication, and making stories more interactive is the therapeutic bit. Call and response is key. At a signal, everyone makes a response in any way they can, be it words, gesture, sound, or pressing a switch with a pre-recorded phrase. A call and response pattern automatically allows for lots of repetition of key words, and for experimentation with vocal register, which can be a great stress reducer for the students. By creating a circle of people on the stage, the energy moves towards the centre, where a student can go. This often results in the students not only responding but initiating; for example, as everyone waits for a particular user to press their switch to kick off the story. I wonder how this works with large groups. Keith tells me he began his time as a visiting teacher by making a point of asking class teachers what they wanted from him. They said they wanted his students - who are deaf blind with profound and multiple learning disabilities - to have the opportunity to experience whole group work. Counterintuitively, Keith now finds that, the bigger the spread of strengths and needs in the group, the better it is. By basing the group around the needs of the most disabled person there, that person is included and other people are sparked off, for example through signing. He has also done some work with mainstream and high support needs students working together, and has letters from the mainstream pupils which clearly show the positive effect of the contact, and how it starts to break down fears and barriers.

telling students, and exploited by the use of different languages and modalities. One student did a gesture in such a way that made it clear he was having a laugh by turning [sala:m] into <salami>, and talk of peace jokingly became talk of peas (and broccoli and carrots and so on). Interactive storytelling is by no means confined to Shakespeare. And, while the free-and-easylooking Shakespearean pieces are highly structured and take a long time to prepare, other uses of interactive storytelling are much more spontaneous and can easily be improvised. Keith and Nevin have observed carer participants using the strategies, such as lines from stories their clients have been involved in, to calm them down and to keep them occupied while they are waiting to do something else, as well as just for fun and interaction. I press Keith and Nevin: But surely you have to be a bit of an extrovert, and to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the arts, and a background in drama? They insist this isnt the case - they have no drama training - and that even the shyest person can end up using a call and response approach to good effect. So, what ideas can they offer to fledgling participants? Firstly, they suggest putting together a story or poem from your own background. Start off with something simple and embroider it. Try one word poetry, saying your name over and over with appropriately fun intonation, progressively knocking off phonemes, until you are left with just one. Remember that nothing can be wrong observe children at this developmental stage having fun playing with rhyme, meaning and emphasis, and youll get the idea of the inclusive silliness of it all.

A good ice breaker with staff who are a bit shy to join in is the call Give us a crisp, give us a crisp with each person progressively adding flavours and everyone saying Yum, yum. While responses automatically start with salt and vinegar and cheese and onion, more exotic and fantastic flavours - cold custard, dandelion and nettle - are bound to creep in to increase the enjoyment and loosen inhibitions. Think as well about how different concepts can be covered through bending storylines. For example, in Jack and the Beanstalk, Keith uses the idea that people are poor listeners: Ive got some beans. You got some jeans? NO, Ive got some beans. You got some queens? NOOO... etc. Ending with You know, you do my ead in! On the storytracks website, a collaboration between Keith and Nicola Grove, they say: Stories give meaning to our lives - we are storytelling creatures who are constantly reviewing and interpreting our experiences and making links with what has happened to others. In so doing, we develop a sense of who we are, and we learn to connect and feel for others. Its now clear to me that, rather than asking why people with complex support needs would want to do Shakespeare, we should be asking why anyone wouldnt? So, go on Keith - play it again. Keith Park is an advisory teacher for SENSE in Lewisham, tel. 020 8699 6098. Nevin Gouda is a speech and language therapist with Lewisham Community Team for Adults with Learning Disabilities, tel. 020 8698 6788. For more information on Keith Park and Nicola Groves storytelling workshops, see


Is your appetite whetted for more?
Speechmark Publishing Ltd is offering a copy of Interactive Storytelling - Developing Inclusive Stories for Children and Adults to readers of Speech & Language Therapy in Practice, in a FREE prize draw. The hands-on manual includes folktale and pantomime, stories from around the world, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, poetry and song, and growing your own stories. To enter, send your name and address to Speech & Language Therapy in Practice - Interactive Storytelling offer, Su Underhill, Speechmark, Telford Road, Bicester, OX26 4LQ by 25th October. The winners will be notified by 1st November.
Interactive Storytelling by Keith Park is available for 29.95 along with a free catalogue from Speechmark, tel. 01869 244644.

Having a laugh
Keith believes he isnt so much teaching Shakespeare as using it - he works very flexibly, throwing in different lines and improvising as seems appropriate. Shakespeare made his name by playing with language; this love of words and the way they sound is shared by interactive story-

From Summer 04: the lucky winner of ERRNI (The Expression, REception and Recall of Narrative Instrument), courtesy of Harcourt Assessmen is Katie Lea in Barnsley. The Butt Non-Verbal Reasoning Test from Speechmark Publishing goes to Helen Millward, Judith Delve and Janis Halber Congratulations to you all.


You might also like