MidSummerland in Greenwich
by Shermaine Slocombe
Local arts producer Shermaine delivered MidSummerland at events and schools across Greenwich this autumn. Here, she shares some insights into how to present this work...
What is MidSummerland
MidSummerland is a 36-minute audio experience and adventure for the young and old. Participants in pairs go on an audio adventure together and the experience inspires them to dance, move and use their imagination. They are led by a voice to an imaginary festival with different instructions for the adults and children. Together they are encouraged to participate in physical activity. Including: – Leading and following – Closing their eyes and being led by their partner – Holding hands and balancing – Hopping racing. – Jumping – Dancing along to a finale.
Breathe In, press play and set off on an extraordinary adventure together. Take the Noodle Pathway, past the Cannonball Hedgehogs, through the Thoughtful Field and into the mysterious tent where your fortune will be told. Make sure to save enough energy for the grand finale – the annual trifle dance.
“The dancing made me feel like I was lost in the world of my imagination. It has inspired me to do more dancing”. Young person
“Good choice. Do it”. Young person
MidSummerland was delivered in different locations, both indoors and outdoors such as schools, festivals and parks in seven venues across 6 days to support communities including new parents and adults to get active after COVID. We purchased ten headsets/devices for participants to partake in an intimate experience, and we also trialled it as a shared experience playing the audio soundtrack via a sound system.
- The Hornfair – Charlton
- Glydon Winter Festival – Plumstead
- Light the Way – Thamesmead
- Waterways Children’s Centre – Thamesmead
- Cherry Orchard Primary – Charlton
- Plumcroft Primary – Plumstead
- Southrise Primary – Plumstead
Participants and Responses
Three schools received MidSummerland. One school chose a Year 5 class who were divided into three small groups of ten, a second as part of an after-school club and a third with targeted groups such as a drama and dance group within a Christmas Fayre and students were off timetable for the entire day. On each occasion, we used a school hall or playground where students had space to travel and move around freely.
“The dance made me feel like I was in another world, and it has inspired me to be more creative. I really want to do it again” Glory
“My favourite part was the whole thing” Martina
“I think it was fun, hypnotic, and crazy. When are you coming again? I loved it” Year 6student
Schools responded positively, used their imaginations cleverly and students didn’t want the experience to end. Children in pairs took on the role of the adult and child and swapped over. Teachers observed how engaged the groups were, especially those who normally lack confidence and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) due to the audio adventure prompting nonverbal communication. Students were able to work within the structure and informational language provided but had the freedom to introduce their own creative ideas and expression. In all settings, students had time to absorb the instructions and working in collaboration with each other increased their engagement levels.
“It is so romantic, something for kids and parents to do together and spend time together” Year 6 student
“It is important to know and trust your partner” Year 6 student
“It made me feel happy, snuggly and warm” Year 6 student
“I want to do it again. Again” Year 5 student
“This will help me take more risks in the future” Year 6 student
Due to the larger size of an after school extra-curricular group, we played the audio adventure via a sound system rather than use the headsets and highlights the flexibility of it as a creative tool. As a shared experience, rather than wearing headphones, enabled the facilitator to model some of the movements and adopt the final elements of the story as a warm-down, for instance sitting around the campfire.
“It made me feel relaxed and happy, even though some parts made me laugh. I enjoyed it because it was calming and kept me focused” Year 5 student
Within the nursery setting, generally, the children were too young to fully understand it, but having said that, it supported an opportunity for both the children and staff/parents to experience something very different together. The staff and parents felt this was a bonding experience and could see the potential of it. The children loved the sense of adventure, and the story wasn’t too long for this age group.
Within a park setting at the beginning of the autumn, families were able to experience it together, sometimes in pairs, and occasionally as a family of larger numbers. It was a very calming experience for the participants and charming to watch as an informal audience. The festival was set in a beautiful park with different areas for participants to explore which added to the magic of it. The environment had a real impact and influenced their movements, whether under the trees in a woodland area or out amongst other stalls and entertainment.
“That was great fun! Something fun to do with my girls together” Parent
“I loved it” Emily aged 5
“Really good. The first time I’ve ever done anything like this” Parent
“My favourite bit was the big hall of mirrors and the trifle dance” Child
“Brilliant! I loved the thoughtful bit and the disco. I didn’t want it to stop” Child
“Very Cool and magical. I loved it. My kids loved it too, especially the mirroring” Parent
We experimented by taking MidSummerland to a winter light festival at night-time. There were light installations along a walking path, park and lake area. Despite the cold weather, families really embraced the experience and preferred to incorporate the audio adventure whilst experiencing the installations on the trail.
“Very Entertaining. It kept me busy. I don’t think I could have kept going had it not been for the audio adventure” Boy aged 7.
“You should do it; it is so fun” Girl aged 9.
“We got some very funny looks, but we loved it” Two big kids (adults)
We took MidSummerland to a Winter Fest, a community event with stalls, food, a parade and entertainment. Every activity was free for families, and it provided something very different and in contrast to the other activities and entertainment provided.
“This was the best part of the entire day. Thank you” Parent
Recommendations and practical points
We purchased ten headsets and ten JOLIKE devices. The devices came with headphones, but purchasing larger headphones, meant it was easier to spot participants when participating and were easier to clean down to be COVID compliant.
All devices and headsets were wiped after every participant had finished to reduce the spread of COVID19. We also provided hand sanitiser for facilitators and participants.
All devices and headsets should be numbered, to keep track of which ones are being used at any given time. A register is helpful to collect participant data, such as a contact number and to make a note of which devices are out and an expected return time. This is helpful when at a busy event. Taking a deposit is recommended as the devices are expensive. In public venues, participants left money, visa cards or driving licenses for example. All participants considered this a reasonable request, and we never had any problems.
Devices of choice
The JOLIKE devices we purchased are excellent at keeping their charge, but it is recommended to provide a battery pack or plug for charging as a back-up. You might wish to have your own alternative as long as it is an MP3 based player and easy to operate.
A simple setup at each venue consisted of a table, bunting, and two feather banners: one advertising our organisation and one marketing MidSummerland. The marketing materials provided in the box are easy to use. It is recommended to lay all the headsets out on the table at the start of the event, so you are ready in case a large group come at once. The activity proved to be popular, and people are intrigued and curious when they see others participating.
Depending on the setting, ten headsets can feel insufficient, however, any more than that and it would have been difficult to facilitate. It can be tricky to press play simultaneously, especially when a family are more than two people. On occasions, we had a group of six and ten. If this is to happen, show the adults and older children how to work the device and count down altogether so to press play at the same time. This is fun and families enjoyed this. The devices go to sleep quickly, so be prepared for a few false starts. This gets easier with practise. Two-three facilitators are recommended with ten headsets in a public setting and to have at least one consistent facilitator who can compare settings and who has a good knowledge of the project. In a school, only two facilitators are required. This helps when working with multiple groups one after each other, cleaning down of headsets and collecting feedback if required.
Young people are tempted to touch the devices, so on occasion if one paused the audio, they were not in sync. The devices can be forwarded to the correct time, but it is recommended to explain to participants to avoid touching the devices. Once they go to sleep, touch doesn’t affect the devices.
You may want to explain to participants to be aware of their surroundings and other people when listening to the instructions. They should only do activity that feels safe to them and lookout for uneven ground. Within the audio adventure, participants are encouraged to close their eyes for a short time and be led by their partner. Participants are encouraged to stay together and are welcome to pause and re-start/stop if needed. Parents or older siblings should be made aware that they are responsible for chaperoning young people and will need to register when taking part.
In advance of a school session, the facilitator can explain there are no right and wrong movements, the importance of working with their partner safely and not to be concerned or distracted with what others are doing in the room/space. Facilitators can provide a warmup, discuss using their imagination and engage in exploratory talk to discuss what a festival might be like if they have never been to one and what the experience might inspire them to do next. If working with very young children, explore playing it without the headphones and/or parents, staff and facilitators all wear headphones too.
We asked feedback questions such as: How did it make you feel? Did you like it and why and what does it inspire you to do next?
“I liked it because I had time to remember what a family trip was about” Year 5 student
“It inspired me to make a poster about dance” Year 5 student
“I enjoyed it because it was like a VR (virtual reality) set but you use your imagination” Year 5 student
Taking MidSummerland to different areas and venues within the borough has enabled us to build deeper relationships with schools, festivals and the partners and organisations that organise community events.
MidSummerland offers families and communities an opportunity to do physical activity in a fun and playful way and fosters a beautiful connection for families.
MidSummerland is perfect for KS2 students and with speech, language and communication needs as it promotes nonverbal communication, socialising, learning, taking turns and increases wellbeing.
This exciting opportunity would enable your organisation to support both new artists and experienced dance artists as there is milage to expand the sessions and deliver longer creative workshops to scaffold the experience.