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Helium Arts’ Pop Up Picnic is our current early years project, a multi-sensory performance experience created for families with young children who have complex needs.

Early Years

Helium Arts’ Pop Up Picnic is our current early years project, a multi-sensory performance experience created for families with young children who have complex needs. Artists visits families in their homes, using music, sound, puppetry, movement and tactile environments to provide families with new ways of bonding with their child. The project was established in January 2016 in partnership with the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation and won the Allianz Community Art Prize at the 2016 Allianz Business to Arts Awards.

‘The home visits were a wonderful, magical experience that helped to stimulate Aisling in a multi-sensory way. The team tailored an individual sequence of interactive experiences to Aisling’s unique needs and presented it at her own pace. Aisling really loved all of the music and singing, along with the colourful, fun, cleverly designed resources. We were delighted to be involved in this superb project that genuinely catered for Aisling’s unique needs.’ – Aisling’s mum

Following a research and development phase in 2016, the creative team – director Joanna Williams and performers Niamh Lawlor and Thomas Johnston – brought Pop Up Picnic on tour in 2017 to four families who took part in the Kildare pilot project and to new families in Tipperary. Parents commented that it was a chance for families to participate in a fun experience as a whole family, which one expressed as being a ‘rare’ experience when living with illness, and that Pop Up Picnic provided ‘new ways to entertain’ their child and new ways for the child’s siblings to interact and play together.

Parents enjoyed learning how to use the different senses for stimulation and saw the performance as ‘a welcome break’ from medical routines. One parent was very surprised by the length of her daughter’s attention span, describing her reaction as ‘heart-lifting.’ Other parents were surprised at how easy the multi-sensory techniques were: ‘simple ideas to try at home’.

The home-based nature of Pop Up Picnic has meant that only a small number of families have been able to take part to date. To open up the project to more children with complex needs, Pop Up Picnic was adapted for public settings in 2018, beginning with performances at the Irish Museum of Modern Art as part of Dublin City Council’s Cruinniú na nÓg. Two Pop Up Picnic inspired events for young children in hospital and care settings also took place as part of Dublin Cruinniú in partnership with Children in Hospital Ireland (CHI) and the Central Remedial Clinic Pre-School.

‘I was delighted to be involved in introducing two Tipperary families to the magic, simplicity and fun of Helium’s home-based projects. Both children and parents alike were captivated and entertained by the multi-sensory performance, which seemed to resonate with, and engage children with complex needs. I loved the pared-back performance using musical instruments, singing and puppetry, sprinkled with fun and laughter which have given families precious memories and diverted them from the daily grind of caring for a sick child in the home.’ – Mags Naughton, Liaison Nurse, Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation

In partnership with the Central Remedial Clinic Pre-School, artist Orla Kelly and musician Jonathan Wilson engaged pre-schoolers, their siblings, and their parents in a multi-sensory picnic adventure as part of Dublin City Council’s Cruinniú na nÓg in 2018. Photo credit: Paul Gallagher.

Pop Up Picnic is a Helium Arts production, devised by musician Thomas Johnston, puppeteer Niamh Lawlor, and director Joanna Williams, and now also featuring performer Roseanne Lynch. The project development phase was mentored by Tim Webb, Artistic Director of London-based theatre company Oily Cart. Prop designs and creation by Orla Kelly and Mia Van Evelingen and puppet making by Púca Puppets.