We had the pleasure of working with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley earlier this year on a theatrical production of Frog and Toad. The theatre department was working on the musical and was hoping that they could do the first sensory friendly production in the area. Our movie theaters will occasionally do a sensory friendly showing but live theatre has its own demands.
We were so impressed with how adaptable the cast and crew were. They were all so eager to lean and tweak anything that might affect an autistic audience member. They things we suggested the be aware of were as follows:
Visually Sensitive – Drastic or fast lighting changes and strobe effects could have a negative effect.
· Visually Sensitive – Drastic or fast lighting changes and strobe effects could have a negative effect.
· Sound Sensitive – Crashing sounds or thunder sound effects might startle some. The sound of tap dancing might also be too intense for some.
· Food Sensitive – if concessions are available, it might be appropriate for parents to bring foods that comply with any diet restrictions.
· Touch Sensitive – Some people who attend will not like being touched while others will make a move for a hug. Some might feel calm when wrapped with a blanket.
· Some young audience members are still learning how to act in social situations. Actors shouldn’t be surprise if they hear noises, shouting, or singing. Likewise, because it’s a children’s show and young audience members are allowed to sit at the front of the stage, know how you will handle an audience member wanting join the scene.
· We also suggested that if they don’t already have plan in place for a situation where an audience member has a medical emergency they might want to talk about it. Will the show pause? Will ushers offer assistance? Will a stage manager make an announcement?
The majority of tip we offered simply required those involved to plan ahead and imagine how they might handle unexpected situations.
When the day of the performance finally arrived the theatre quickly filled with audience members with a variety of disabilities and sensory issues and of all ages. Ushers were quick to let attendees know that ear plugs and blankets were available in the office for those who might need them. Some attendees did, indeed, want to sit at the front of the stage and others sat in the traditional seats. The house lights never fully went dark but remained dim in case someone needed to move around or move to the lobby. As the stage manager moved to center stage to let families know what to expect, she was quickly joined by a young boy who wanted to copy every movement she made. She was very sweet and allowed him to assist her. As she finished, his care giver came up on stage to get him. It was a quick indication to everyone that this was a place of acceptance and inclusion.
Lighting cues were slowed down and a storm scene was skipped over. Tap shoes changed to soft shoes. Audience participation was encouraged. And everyone left with a full heart. We were so happy to have been of assistance and were thrilled that our CAMPers went home, told their families all about it, and then made plans to attend again with their parents. We are thrilled with what the student actors and crew were able to lean and accomplish. It doesn’t take much to be inclusive.
If you’re thinking of staging a sensory friendly production we’d love to hear about it. What other events could be sensory friendly with just a little planning?