As a high school student, I got to direct theatre for children and adults with disabilities. That experience gave me so many skills and helped me get an internship with the American Repertory Theatre in their Education Department. During the internship, I was asked to help market a sensory friendly performance of The Light Princess. I ended up doing a lot of research into sensory friendly works as a result. The Theatre Development Fund has created a program called The Autism Theatre Initiative (ATI) that works to make theatre more accessible to those with autism and individuals with sensory sensitivities.
A lot of items need to be accounted for when preparing a sensory friendly performance. Theatres and groups like ATI hire professionals in autism education to make sure they’ve covered all the bases. A sensory performance includes cutbacks on sound, changes to surprising light/sound elements, and blue-outs instead of blackouts.
Parents avoid entertainment situations because their kids can sometimes have ticks that cause them to make loud noises or need to get up and move around. An incident during The King and I at Lincoln Center in September where a child with autism had disrupted the performance and caused other audience members to call out in anger. Since then, more people are working to make theatre more accessible. Theatres can create a space where that behavior is welcome. Audiences and their families are able to go outside of the theatre to spaces where sensory-friendly equipment is available. Things like bean bag chairs, fidgets, and coloring books are set up to provide other sensory fulfillment to audience members.
Productions Involved with the ATI
The Lion King, Aladdin, and Kinky Boots on Broadway have already had sensory friendly performances with the ATI. Mary Poppins has also joined the initiative to help make the initiative supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Most recently, The Phantom of the Opera announced that it will be raising money to have an affordable sensory friendly performance as well:
Ali Ewoldt for Autism Theatre Initiative from Theatre Development Fund (tdf) on Vimeo.
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