42nd Street (http://42ndstreet.org.uk/about-us/) is a charity that provides mental health support to young people between the ages of 11 and 25. One of the ways that they get young people involved in their organisation is through arts-based activities. As part of their creative programme, they recently opened a new venue called The Horsfall (http://42ndstreet.org.uk/horsfall/).
At the beginning of 2017, 42nd Street launched The Horsfall with a piece of interactive, immersive theatre called HIDDEN. HIDDEN was created specifically for The Horsfall, and took over all three floors of the venue. The director and playwright, Annetee Mees and Tom Bowtell, along with the design team and a group of young carers, worked in collaboration to write and design HIDDEN. I worked on HIDDEN with 42nd Street as an assistant producer for my work placement through the Institute of Cultural Practices.
I was drawn to this project because I came to Manchester to get an MA in Arts Management and I wanted to get practical experience working within the local theatre community. Even though The Horsfall is not an established theatre venue, I knew that an opportunity like this would allow me to connect with professional theatre makers. In addition, due to my personal struggles with social anxiety and emotional wellbeing, I was excited to work with an organisation that spreads awareness about mental health.
Several of the tasks that I completed for HIDDEN involved thinking about how to make sure that the audience had a good experience. This included ensuring information was clearly presented on the Eventbrite event page so that ticket buyers would be fully informed before arriving at the venue, as well as preparing a front of house procedure that made taking care of the audience a priority.
I have previously worked at a theatre in this capacity, so this was not an entirely unfamiliar role for me. However, because of some of the aspects of the production there were some challenges that allowed me to develop new skills. There was one task in particular that I would like to highlight: the composition of a social story.
Social stories were originally created by Carol Gray (http://carolgraysocialstories.com/social-stories/) to help children with autism. A social story uses simple, concise sentences to describe a situation or activity in structured, supportive, and patient way. The purpose of the story is to give the reader information in advance to reduce their anxiety about trying new experiences. Social stories may also include images as visual aids or be presented in the form of a comic strip. A good example of one can be found on the Ambassador Theatre Group website (https://www.atgtickets.com/resources/static/custom/the_harold_pinter_theatre_visual_story.pdf ).
Although social stories were originally designed for children with autism, due to the nature of the work that 42nd Street does, I was tasked with writing one that was tailored to someone who has social anxiety. I was able to use information I found online, as well as instructions provided by my supervisor as guidance on how to compose a social story. I also used my personal experience with social anxiety to think through what information would be most helpful and comforting for a potential audience member feeling nervous about coming to the show. This social story was successfully used to help reduce the anxiety of potential audience members so that they were able to attend the performance.
I feel that as an arts manager, social stories are a useful tool to help reach audiences who may not normally attend events due to anxiety. I appreciate get this opportunity to learn about them, and hope to encourage others within the art world to utilise them.