World Autism Awareness Week – Bella’s story


Today marks the final day of World Autism Awareness Week. Here at The Old Vic, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy theatre is at the heart of what we do and one way that we do this is through visual stories to help ease anxiety and provide reassurance for those who need it.

Bella’s school was part of Schools Club, which provides free workshops, theatre tickets, backstage tours and diverse educational resources for staff and students. This is her Old Vic story:

When my school, Bullers Wood School for Girls, joined The Old Vic Schools Club it really caught my attention. I applied to join the programme by writing a letter explaining why I wanted to take part and how I would share the experience with the whole school. When I first found out I got in, I was ecstatic! Then, I found out I was the only one from year nine!

The Old Vic would be coming to Bullers and giving workshops with professional actors. We would also get free tickets to see several productions, I knew I was going to be taking four trips to The Old Vic and I was terrified. I have never had much experience with theatres; when I have gone I have never actually gone into the room due to nerves of such intensity that have stopped me from going inside. I am autistic which means I find loud noises and new situations very intimidating so this was going to be a challenge.

I arrived and I remembered feeling immense excitement. The building was so beautiful and exquisite; I felt like I had left the world behind me and that I was somewhere much more magical than anything I could ever imagine. I was given the visual story by my teacher and I flicked briefly through it (a visual story is an explanation of everything that will happen and where everything is; the staff and exits are also mentioned). I felt much more reassured when I had seen this because I was immediately prepped for everything and knew where everything was. I distinctly remember seeing a part of the visual story which said I could leave the play at any time to watch it on a monitor which instantly calmed my nerves beforehand.

I stayed with my teacher and found out we were on the top floor. We waited for around ten minutes and then we went inside. I felt instant amazement. The theatre was so intricate and so gorgeous that when I took my seat, I actually felt no worry at all. I felt like I had left it all behind and entered the story even if it hadn’t started yet!

I went to see Girl From the North Country. It was one of the most beautiful, heart-breaking, intelligent pieces of acting and singing. I went home telling everyone ‘I loved it so much, it was amazing!’ Each and every actor and actress gave it their all and I felt ensnared by its charm. I actually felt like I was in their world, and not sitting in the audience. I loved the singing so much that when I got home, I learnt the words to the song ‘Tight Connection to My Heart’ because it was sung with such emotion and passion. It was so eloquent and detailed; every character made you feel something different. There were times where I felt goosebumps from how remarkable the singing was.

I made my whole family listen to the soundtrack multiple times and have begged my Mum to let me go again and all I said when I got home was ‘Oh, I wish you had seen it Mum’.

I would definitely recommend a trip to The Old Vic as the staff are all friendly and welcoming, the theatre is exquisite and the acting quality is of the highest degree. I can’t wait till I come back again.

Happy 200th birthday, The Old Vic!

By Bella Madge, 13 years old

Schools Club provides bespoke workshops, theatre tickets, backstage tours and diverse educational resources for staff and students. It supports the curriculum and works with schools and students from areas of London with poor arts provision. The Old Vic partners with 40 secondary schools, engaging with up to 30 students in each school for the full academic year.

This year The Old Vic is working with 1,152 students from schools in 22 London Boroughs.

Supported by The Sackler Trust

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