I read a Billboard article by Nicole Pajer that explained the new trend of ‘sensory-friendly’ shows. While Pajer started out by illustrating the use of these shows by children’s vocalists, she also explained that there have been movie showing, and live theatre performances that serve the same purpose. The purpose being to make these viewings accessible for children with autism.
Pajer explained that children with autism can often find the experience of going to a concert overwhelming, and the changes that are made in a ‘sensory-friendly’ performance are all targeted towards making everyone feel as comfortable as possible. The audience lights are kept on so there is no discomfort in the dark, strobe lights are often not used, and the volume is lower. At on of the concerts Pajer described, ushers were instructed to allow children to move about the aisle as much as they wanted, giving them the opportunity to engage and express themselves physically is they wanted to.
The concept of including everyone is one that has been explored more and more in the theatre community today. There was a pretty well publicized production of Spring Awakening by a deaf cast, done in American Sign Language a few years ago. I think the idea that theatre should be for everyone is a very important one. Indeed, it’s one that goes hand-in-hand with the idea that children are smart, and should be treated as though they have the sophistication to handle more complex plots and ideas.
Theatre is a tool for storytelling, and as I’ve said before, it can be a voice for the people, and that means everyone should have the chance to share in the theatre-going experience. Ideally, I would like my productions to offer a few ‘sensory-friendly’ performances, and accessible facilities, when I reach a point where the infrastructure required is a possibility. However, a more immediate idea is that of classes, learning and creating experiences for children that may have some kind of disability. All children have the ability to tell stories, those all those modes of storytelling might be different. I am now interested in learning what kind of techniques exist for leading children with any kind of disability through the act of creation and play through theatre.