Make a pair of wings, sing like a bird would sing

It is wonderful that Waxwings, our multi-sensory show for younger children (and children with special needs) is moving into Kings Place for the Tête à Tête Festival on 6-7 August.

The piece has a ravishing score by Clive and Mark Ives of Woo Music, and is sung by a brilliant young cast – Emily Blanch, Katie Grosset and Guy Elliott. It was performed nearly 20 times across the country earlier in the year, and has just returned from the Philharmonie in Luxembourg, where it was sung in Luxembourgish, for there is indeed such a language!

The story is really a universal one about the fears of growing up, but here is given an edge because Olly is on the autistic spectrum and the headteacher of his new school turns out to be a monster. In these situations there is only one thing for it: get the audience to help you make wings and fly.

The collaboration with Woo Music came about in an odd way. I have been a fan of their electronic music for a while, having come across an album of theirs in a store in Soho with the fabulous title, Whichever Way You Are Going You Are Going Wrong. As I was hunting down more of their work, I made contact with Clive, and when it came time to commission a new piece it struck me that their soundworld could be perfect for an opera – obviously their first. They had no hesitation in agreeing. I sent them some lyrics for the final scene in the show, and within days a glorious track arrived and the deal was done.

Nearing the end of the show when the audience are encouraged to stand up and ‘take flight’ a young girl with Down’s syndrome came out of the audience to have the film screened on to her tummy. As this was happening she began to move her ‘wings’ and try to fly. The smile on this girl’s face was so broad, and full of joy I leant over to the headteacher of the school to comment on how wonderful it was and he informed me that usually they never saw this girl smile at all. They were amazed by her reactions. It was a truly powerful moment. What opera can achieve, eh? Education Manager, Norwich Theatre Royal

A particular awareness in the creation of these operas is that we need to engage with the audience on many different levels: sounds and sights along with touch and even smell vie with each other for attention, and then storylines that have a familiarity about them, but take our young audiences in surprising directions (we hope!). In all this there is the constant quest for moments of calm beauty to be interspersed with the humour. Making work for these special audiences demands a particular sensitivity, one that Woo have plenty of, and it was a joy creating Waxwings with them.

Tim Yealland
Head of Education (ETO) and Director/Librettist, Waxwings

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