Performing arts help children on the autism spectrum and other sensory sensitives better understand and respond to social cues, increase self-expression, explore deeper levels of communication and facilitate peer interactions. Yet, many children and individuals on the autism spectrum or with other sensory sensitivities have a low tolerance for crowds, darkness, loud noises, and other sensory input. Due to these challenges, the world of theatre is not always accessible to all.
To create a performing arts experience that is welcoming to all families, individuals, and children on the autism spectrum and with other sensory sensitivities, Stages Theatre Company started producing sensory-friendly theatre! Since introducing sensory-friendly programming in 2012, we have now grown to offer ten sensory-friendly performances every season! We create a judgment-free, shush-free environment with house lights on, sound levels lowered, and crowds minimized.
Depending on where you go, each theatre company that offers sensory-friendly performances does it a little differently. Here, you will understand the process of how Stages Theatre Company dishes up sensory-friendly performances that the whole family can enjoy!
We start with a script. Our sensory-friendly performances are made from pre-existing production materials. We then enhance and edit the design and elements to meet the audience’s needs.
Before the audience arrives at the theatre, a social story, usually in the form of a video and a plot guide are provided. The social story video allows ticket holders to see what the theatre looks like, and the process of coming to the theatre from parking, getting tickets, findings your seat, and up through the end of the show so audience members know what to expect. The plot guide, accompanied by pictures of the performance for visual cues, is provided to help explain what the audience will see.
Our sensory-friendly performances are 45-50 minutes in length and are limited to a house audience of 100. During the performances, audience members are free to get up, move around and leave whenever they need to.
In a typical performance, the house lights are off, and there might be startling light cues that happen throughout the performance. During a sensory-friendly performance, house lights are pulled back and kept at 25-50% and startling light cues are removed. We also do this for sound cues and levels.
With all of the production elements inside the theatre enhanced, we then plan for factors outside the performance space. If an audience member doesn’t want to be in the theatre anymore, a quiet space outside of the performance area is available. As the audience walks into the theatre, we also provide fidgets and sound canceling headphones. Oftentimes, the audience who sees our sensory-friendly performances take the story very literally. If the audience wants to follow along with a plot guide, we have extra copies available at the theatre.
Once all of these elements are put together, then a sensory-friendly performance can happen!
We are bringing back the production that started our sensory-friendly performances!
Owl Moon is returning to Stages Theatre Company and will run March 8 through March 24, 2019, with a sensory-friendly performance on Saturday, March 16th at 10:00 am. Based on the Caldecott Medal book by Jane Yolen, this ballet-inspired story is told through movement and dance, and ventures into the magnificent wintery woods where a father and child take a walk hoping to spot an owl and are surprised by what they find behind every tree.
For more information on Owl Moon, or to learn more about our sensory-friendly performances and accessibility programs, visit www.stagestheatre.org/about-us/accessibility/