A love of performance drives Matthew Bennett on stage.
His passion to share his work is reflected in his email address which includes the words “made to create” and in his choice of a perfect way to celebrate two special birthdays ...with a gig on May 4 at Preston’s Continental pub.
Matthew, who was diagnosed with autism just a few years ago, is part of the city based father and son rap duo FMA + 12 GAGE.
He said: “We’re writing a few new songs and things. It’s in celebration of my 40th and Callum’s 21st... Because I don’t drink I would like to perform.
“That’s what I enjoy doing most. It’s really hard to describe. It’s a feeling unlike anything else.
“If people want to come along everyone is welcome.”
But he is very aware that for those on the autism spectrum sitting on the other side of the footlights may not be so enjoyable.
That is why, when he and son Callum were asked to support a new campaign, promoting what are called relaxed performances, they wholeheartedly agreed - and he set to work to make a film about it.
The video explains why relaxed performances are needed and what they entail.
The aim is to create a more relaxed environment for those with autism spectrum conditions, learning disabilities and other conditions to access and enjoy live theatre.
Matthew said: “I know how it feels to not be able to go into situations. It’s important to me on many different levels.
Just going into somewhere quite big is quite scary and having to sit down for a whole performance is quite taxing.”
He and Callum were invited to get involved in promoting the campaign by autism advocate Maria Cook, who met them when they performed in national Autism’s Got Talent shows.
Matthew, who lives in the Broadgate area of Preston,said: “She knows what we do and what we stand for. She wanted our help. We are promoting relaxed performances catered for those with disabilities who struggle with the more usual productions.”
Some theatres have been staging such performances for years. The new campaign was launched by Jason Gardiner of “Dancing on Ice” fame on TV’s “This Morning” programme after he saw first hand how those who previously could not access theatre benefit.
He met Maria and her autistic son Ryan in January when appearing in pantomime at their local theatre and pledged to campaign for more such performances.
The cast had come out to meet the audience after a relaxed show and Maria’s son Ryan, who cannot speak, was delighted to meet Jason,(see photo left) and told him so in sign language.
Maria said: “They say people with autism can’t show emotion...oh my goodness.”
Maria, from Surrey, had first become aware of relaxed performances some four years ago She said: “It was a revelation for me. I was just desperate to get my son to a pantomime.”
Her ambition was to have a relaxed pantomime at her local theatre and she succeeded: “We sat down and worked out exactly what we needed to make the performance relaxed, looking at things that set off high anxiety and difficult behaviours, make sure the lights are up, create a safe space for people to retreat to when it’s needed and look at the environment in the foyer - turn the TV off, reduce the volume of tannoy announcements.
“There are lots of things that are easy to tweak and (give) staff some sort of awareness training.”
Will North West theatres join the relaxed performance movement? Some are very seriously considering it, others have put a toe in the water and a leading regional theatre has been providing such opportunities for years.
At Blackpool’s Grand Theatre, Chief Executive Ruth Eastwood said: :“We are looking into relaxed performances and we’ve been visiting other theatres and seeing how they do their’s.”
At the Dukes in Lancaster a spokesman said: “The Dukes has been staging relaxed performances during the run of its Christmas show for about two years.
“Special features including alterations to the sound and lighting (the house lights are up during the show). Before the show begins, the cast come on to the stage to introduce themselves and their characters and also give a summary of the story. The audience are also told that they can come and go as they please during the production.”
At The Lowry,in Salford, Megan Tripp, Audience Development Manager said:“Over the last five years, we’ve seen over 2,000 people visit The Lowry specifically for a relaxed performance with shows such as War Horse, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Doctor Dolittle all incorporating one as part of their run.
“We currently have relaxed performances on sale for a variety of shows over the next six months and we will be offering more in the future as part of our continued commitment to make The Lowry accessible to everyone.”
She added: “We would encourage anyone who may find the usual theatre environment challenging consider trying one out.
“The show remains largely the same with some small alterations such as, lighting and sound levels are adjusted to soften their impact and there is a relaxed attitude to noise.
“Audience members are also free to leave and re-enter the auditorium at any point with a chill out space available for those who may need it.”
Matthew and Callum’s film can be seen here
The national campaign is on Twitter and Facebook @RlxdPerformance