MUSIC AND THEATRE SKILLS WEEK FOR CHILDREN WITH DOWN SYNDROME In 2015, VBMT successfully launched its first pilot project with young people with Down Syndrome, called Action Songs. Action songs is a week long Music Theatre Summer Programme for Children with Down Syndrome from ages 8-12 at The Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, London. Using dramatic visual narratives and story telling participants composed new songs with supported related character movement in order to embed understanding and encourage fuller participation. Funded by The Dorcas Trust and Waitrose Community Giving Fund. There is a distinct lack of opportunity for children with Down Syndrome in this age range to be exposed to working with professionals of high standing within their fields and to participate in a summer school environment which is directed solely towards their specific learning needs and strengths. This is the first step in developing a three-year programme, which consistently works with this particular group to give them all-important early intervention of skills which can provide a foundation for confidence and self-esteem later in life. Skills learnt through shared team music and theatre performance are transferable and can be used to problem solve and integrate in other areas of life.
    A central aim of the skills week was to inspire confidence in the participants to independently find their communicative voice using professionally led music and theatre skills. In addition to the course leaders, there were guest professionals in the fields of music, theatre, dance, costume design and physical theatre. These included actress Michelle Collins, musician Matthew Gibson from the London Symphony Orchestra, Fiona Carey, Head of Vocal Studies at Chicken Shed Theatre Company. Working at The Park Theatre and at LSO St Lukes, two wonderful arts venues, was inspiring for the participants. Volunteers with an interest in developing their skills as professional trainers when doing arts related disability work were also present to help supervise the sessions and were mentored by the core team leaders. They were also taught basic Makaton signing which helped those participants with speech delay and hearing loss. The sessions were specifically customized for children between the ages of 8-12 who have Down Syndrome. The emphasis was on the process they undergo, rather than on performance.
    Over the course of a week participants developed a narrative based on a young boy and his journey in making choices to help him grow and develop in the rain forest. The children devised songs and narrative and began to explore the idea of character development through movement and collaborative music making and songwriting. They also designed their own costumes and explored speech related rhythmic pattern development. They shared their story with their parents and friends at The Park Theatre in an informal performance. An important feature of the project was, that participants had the opportunity to work at their own independent level and were encouraged to be part of the larger ensemble bringing with them their own particular skills and talents. Some of the children were better at movement, some better at drumming regular patterns and some are excellent writers. All have some form of cognitive and speech delay. An understanding of the implications this has on communication and learning is central to our work as a team.