Too Many Cooks at RoseHill School

Project Concept

In Autumn 2017 HandMade Theatre received a project commission from Applause Rural touring and Arts Council England to create a touring production inspired by food and cooking. As part of the creative process the company like to work with young people so approached Rosehill School (4-19 school for children with Autism) with the theme and the opportunity for an exciting creative collaboration. The school and theatre company have a long-standing relationship and were both keen to develop an exciting project to benefit the students and staff of Rosehill school. Project planning took place in March 2018 followed by a 4 day residency 17th-20th April 2018.

Project Planning

HandMade Theatre’s lead practitioners Amy Nicholson and Suzy Gunn attended two staff meetings at Rosehill school ahead of the project. The first introduced the staff to the project concept and tackled initial planning idea and logistics. Project dates were booked as the first week of the summer term as a way to launch the new term with an exciting practical week of creative energy from which the staff could carry on in their own teaching through the following weeks.

The second meeting looked into more detailed planning, specifically identifying links in existing school curriculum plans to the food theme. HandMade practitioners worked with each of the three departments to mind map ideas for the initial workshop sessions and wider planning for the half term. HandMade were dedicated to offering workshops and ideas, which tailored to the different needs and learning of each class group and that could come together in a whole school event through the performance.

Lower school Planning Ideas: The Seaside

  • Food found at the sea side – ice cream, fish and chips,
  • Under the sea – fish, water
  • Literacy Book – the lighthouse keepers lunch
  • Sensory – sights, sounds, smells

 Middle school Planning Ideas: Natural Habitats

  • Water cycle – importance of water
  • Growing – plants and bugs
  • Where does food come from?
  • Seas and oceans

Upper School Planning Ideas: Food for life & Independence with food

  • Health and safety
  • Making food
  • Where food comes from
  • Jobs and characters

Project Objectives

  • To build pupil and staff confidence in the participation of creative activities
  • To support curriculum links and pupil IEP’s
  • To encourage communication through interactive workshops and performance
  • To encourage collaboration, sharing and group participation
  • To explore music, props and storytelling
  • To explore the theme of food, including food safety
  • To build confidence in performance for older pupils
  • To explore different characters and characterisation
  • To encourage independence
  • To encourage younger pupils to become active audience members
  • To inspire staff with a new activities, songs, sensory props and interactive methods.
  • To encourage collaborative planning.

Project Delivery

Day One: Dedicated to lower school, including 10 short sensory workshops. The dance studio was transformed into a beach inspired space with netting, fish props, shells, fabric and vinegar soaked paper. Staff and pupils visited the space in small groups to explore the surroundings and take part in activities and songs. The HandMade Theatre practitioners worked in an intensive musical interaction style to engage pupils, taking lead from their movements, sounds and interests.

Day Two: focused on middle school and involved a series of slightly more structured creative workshops around the theme of growing. The dance studio was set up to resemble an allotment or garden with soil, plant pots, hessian sack and grass. Pupils sat around on benches to undertake activities and songs, which led them through the process of growing from seed to vegetable. Key aspects of learning included the growing cycle, healthy living and weather.


Day 3: working with upper school, these creative workshops developed and expanded on the themes and activities of day 2. They followed the growing process of planting a seed right through to cooking and serving food. Starting in our existing allotment garden and moving to a kitchen set up to cook the vegetables and then taking on the role of a waiter to serve the food. Involving cooking songs, movement activities and sensory props, exploring growing cycles, food health and safety, character exploration.

Day 4: This was a special performance day working with the full HandMade Theatre team of performer/musicians. The company worked with a selected team of 8 pupils in the morning to develop a unique performance. The performance combined elements of the professional theatre show, aspects from the creative workshops and some specially designed elements. The show was presented three times to lower, middle then upper school pupils using the school café as the setting. The show was designed to be interactive involving both performers and audience in action based songs. We met different characters and encouraged the performing pupils to contribute ideas, join in songs and perform in character as a team of waiters.    

Project Evaluation

Practitioner comments:

Amy Nicholson, Creative Director: The project provided a unique opportunity for staff and pupils to take part in creative activities together, in the workshops, as performers and as audience. It was inspiring to see them interacting together filled with playfulness and fun, learning in a highly practical and positive way. Communication, participation and engagement always came across as very high, with many pupils demonstrating a good level of understanding and willingness to take part. There was a fantastic energy about the school throughout the week with both staff and pupils keen to engage with the HandMade Theatre team in and beyond sessions. This energy and buzz around the project flowed into our own company rehearsals and helped to inspire us as practitioners.

 HandMade have worked with Rosehill staff over many years and it was obvious to see those staff who have taken part in our creative sessions before. They felt confident to interact, sing along and join us in creative play responding spontaneously to pupils. This is an exciting and effective way to work, which only comes from a longer-term relationship as they build trust and familiarity. For future projects we would aim to give new staff more of an introduction to our working processes so they are able to fully benefit and engage in the experience.

Suzy Gunn, Lead Practitioner: Working with the pupils and staff at Rosehill for out Too Many Cooks project was a lot of fun and very rewarding. It was a bespoke project, which touched upon many areas of the curriculum in a natural way. The children took part in sessions over the three days and a performance at the end of the project. Pupils who took part in stand-alone sessions were very engaged in activities whether they were sensory-based activity, songs or practical activities. The children who performed in the show were extremely keen to take part and gained a lot in terms of confidence and experiencing a short performance. The performance taught them to follow a structure, perform to piers and required a lot in terms of focus and stamina, which they all handled really well. Having the lead in days where children experienced songs, movements and themes in relation to the final show was invaluable for the performers and audience members. It also gave the staff a reference point for the show itself. It would be very beneficial for the school to continue this work in performance and music and widen the reach of the arts throughout the school.

 Tom Byrne, Performer: Working with Pupils from Rosehill was a wonderful experience. The Participants who performed throughout the day really engaged with their waiter characters and performed some fantastic physical sequences moving around the space with their trays. The combination of songs, movement and sensory elements delighted the audience and helped to encourage the exploration and discovery of new foods through the performance narrative.

Staff comments:

Rebecca Simpson, Project coordinator: Thank you so much for a fabulous week on behalf of us all here. I hope we can do it again soon!  My class LOVED your session and we are still going strong with the food topic here in class 7 which has now taken over this half term (water will wait until Summer 2). 

Cheryl Steele, Head Teacher: Thank you again for a fantastic week last week with our whole school project ‘Too Many Cooks’!! The photos are amazing. Well done everyone for taking part in such wonderful interactive activities, plus the amazing performances by our super pupils on Friday. Thank you to Rebecca, and class 7 team, plus all the pupils and staff that made this event possible!! Rebecca and her class worked so hard to bring it all together with Amy and Suzy and the pupils were truly amazing.

Teacher lower School ‘All of the pupils in Class 3 attended the Handmade theatre sessions. They all enjoyed them and learnt through sensory stories, songs and dance. My pupils mainly learn through sensory activities and Handmade Theatre used those to help them learn. Amazing experience for everyone – they also gave us ideas for future lesson activities.  Handmade theatre were fantastic.  They fully engaged all the pupils in a multi-sensory way.  Our pupils loved the hands on experience getting dirty and digging in the mud. The whole school topic is always a hit and has been developed over the term.’  

 Teacher Middle School ‘ The class all loved the ‘Too Many Cooks Topic.’We introduced it at the start of the week by hooking the children in and making chefs hats. This prepared them for the drama session in the dance studio and made them excited to see what they were going to do wearing their chef’s hat.  

All of our children were fully engaged in the session, this was due to the fantastic encouragement from Amy and Suzy who fully got into their role and supported the children as required, taking a lead on the staff team to help with this.  They loved the tactile side of the session which involved digging up the soil and planting seeds. They particularly loved the water spray, with Z (who can at times be disengaged) seeking it out to play with further. The songs were brilliant, simple but effective and we used the ‘chop, chop’ song in our follow up work.

We used the text ‘Rainbow Stew’ to build on the topic and were able to complete our Science around the theme of plants, building upon what had been covered in the session.  Overall, the whole experience was a fantastic sensory experience for the children in my class and it was lovely to see them all involved and engaged! Thank you Amy and Suzy for bringing leaning to life!

Teacher Upper School ‘My class have a wide range of abilities and they were all catered for. The HMT staff interacted well with the pupils and they responded well to them.  The lesson was inspiring to all.’

‘This has been the best day ever’ Adam (Pupil aged 10)