Jelani Remy as Simba with the touring company of The Lion King.
For parents of children with sensory, social, and learning disabilities (and adults who fall under those categories), going to the theatre as a family can be a nerve-wracking ordeal – or something that is entirely out of reach. Too loud noises, flashing nights, the smell of stage smoke, and blackouts may trigger nervousness, fright, confusion, or overstimulation. The worry that someone might cry out, be judged for tics and involuntary movement, or even be bullied by fellow children in the audience can create a real or perceived access barrier that keeps these families out of the theatre.
This separation is doubly troubling because of research showing that experiencing and practicing theatre can significantly improve the socioemotional functioning of children with autism spectrum disorders. SENSE Theatre in Nashville‘s summer programs for children with autism run at capacity, with parents driving hundreds of miles to bring their children. So it’s especially welcome news that the national tour of The Lion King that touches down at the Orpheum Theatre in July will include a dedicated sensory-friendly performance.
Making a performance sensory-friendly is not a small affair: strobe lights pointed at the audience must be eliminated, louder sounds toned down, quiet spaces reserved, and in-performance items called fidgets distributed to divert some attention and energy, if necessary. (Earplugs and noise-canceling headphones are also available, in case the volume level remains too high.) To put this together, the Hennepin Theatre Trust has enlisted Fraser, a local autism services provider.
All in all, it looks to be a particularly fruitful spring and summer for sensory-friendly performances:
- May 14: I Love You, Stinky Face (Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins)
- June 1: Where the Wild Things Are (Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul). Part of the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival.
- June 2: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis)
- July 30: The Lion King (Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis)
- July 30: Annie, Jr. (Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins)
Do you know about a sensory-friendly performance or event that we’re missing from our list? Email firstname.lastname@example.org!