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The Creative Learning team at Sunderland Empire have successfully secured nearly £15,000 in funding from Arts Council England for an innovative collaborative summer learning project in Sunderland. The Grants for the Arts funding will link to and complement the arrival of the National Theatres production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (11-15 August 2015 – North East Theatre Guide preview link) through offering a range of autism friendly arts activities at partner venues across Sunderland.

This exciting project will bring partners together to co-develop and deliver a summer programme of activities for families with members with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the aim of supporting 180 participants over the project duration. Throughout the application process Sunderland Empire received support from Sunderland Cultural Partnership who facilitated networking between local cultural partners including Arts Centre Washington, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, No Limits Theatre and Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.

Helen Connify, Sunderland Cultural Partnership Coordinator said: “This is a really exciting and innovative project for children and families on the autistic spectrum, which SunderlandEmpire and cultural organisations in Sunderlandhave worked together to make happen”.

Hollie Coxon, Creative Learning Manager, Sunderland Empire said: “We are very excited to launch this exciting programme over the summer, Get Curious! aims to offer opportunities for families with young people with ASD to sample new cultural experiences in a more relaxed environment through a variety of Art Forms in different venues across Sunderland”.

Joshua Jenkins (Christopher) in
The Curious Incident of the
Dog in the Night-Time,
Photo: Brinkhoff+Ă‚genberg
The National Theatre’s multi award-winning production of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will take audiences in Sunderland into the life and insights of Christopher Boone, a young person who sees the world differently.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is based on Mark Haddon’s award-winning novel, adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott.The Olivier and Tony award winning production has been seen by over 200,000 people during its run in the West End.

Sunderland Empire will work closely with National Theatre Learning, who have a commitment to opening up the National’s repertoire, artistry and skills, enabling participants of all ages to discover new skills and experience the excitement of theatre-making. 

Melanie Whitehead, Learning Programme Manager, National Theatre said: “We are delighted to support Sunderland Empire with the GET CURIOUS! Project.  This is a unique and extraordinary opportunity for families to engage in learning in a fun and inspiring way - together. Our ‘Curious about Devising’ project supported by our team of National Theatre Learning practitioners will complement the planned activity well - I look forward to meeting the families involved”.

Throughout the GET CURIOUS! project partners will work closely with the North East Autism Society, an organisation that Sunderland Empire continue to work closely with to develop theatre Autism Access.  North East Autism Society is a registered charity providing personalised services for children, young people and adults on the autism spectrum.

Training will be delivered by award winning Autism Outreach Team (AOT) Sunderland, an established multi-disciplinary team comprising of representatives from Education, Health and Social Care.

The summer programme of Autism friendly activities will be delivered across all partner venues and include a five day intensive Learning programme at Sunderland Empire with National Theatre Learning,  whilst the production is in Sunderland, Arts Award delivery and an opportunity to see the show (including familiarisation and preparation for attendees with Autism).

The overall aim of the summer programme is to kick start further longer term engagement in theatre and the arts. The project will also support learning and development for creative practitioners across Sunderland via investigation on the impact of the project, Autism in Arts Training for providers and professional development for Drama teachers with Frantic Assembly as well as Professional Development delivered by local practitioners, for English Teachers in response to the Curious Incident of the Night plays addition to the English GCSE syllabus in September 2015.

Schools, families and groups will receive a wealth of tailored support including a Prepare to ‘Get Curious’ pack which can be used to support the preparation for visits. Places are limited and Sunderland Empire would urge families to get in touch to discuss further ahead of activities starting this month on 0191 5661056 or

Autism friendly theatre tour - Thursday 23 July
Learn more about the Sunderland Empire in a relaxed environment. Booking essential.

Insight Session - Thursday 13 August,
Get Curious participants will have the opportunity to learn about the production at an Insight Session, followed by tickets to see the show. Tickets £5pp. *This is not a relaxed performance, parents/carers are advised to get in touch before attending. 

Curious about devising - Monday 17 - Friday 21 August 
A special five day family learning programme ran by the National Theatre and Sunderland Empire. This week long programme includes 'Curious' themed workshops for families, with the opportunity to meet other families and get curious about 'devising' theatre. Places are limited so please contact theatre ASAP. 


Arts Centre
Washington - 20 July - 24 August (every Monday)
Autism Friendly taster sessions for ages 11+ in drama, dance, music, visual arts and more! 

Northern Gallery for Contemporary - 21 July- 25 August (every Tuesday) 
Creative Sessions for Families. Create a large mural using overhead projectors to enlarge your drawings to giant proportions!

Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens - 22 July- 19 August (every Wednesday) 
Autism friendly family activities which respond to the amazing exhibitions currently on display.


Attend any Taster Session for the opportunity to come and see the amazing Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time production live at the Sunderland Empire on Thursday 13 August at 2.30pm for a very special price of £5 per person! This is not a Relaxed Performance. Recommended for ages (guidance age of 11+). We have support available to ensure families enjoy this performance, please get in touch to discuss.

Tickets to the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time are available to purchase in person at the Box Office, via the booking online on 0844 871 3022 or

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