Taking any child to a play or musical on Broadway or (its British equivalent) the West End can be tricky, especially considering the expensive ticket prices and the certainty that he or she will want to wiggle around at inopportune moments. For children with autism, going to the theater can be challenging for additional reasons: jarring noises, distracting or overwhelming light effects, and other sensory issues that might affect the child’s experience. Lately, however, productions in London and NYC have committed to creating positive and relaxed theater experiences for children with autism and sensory disorders. The London production of Wicked recently announced that, after working with the National Autistic Society, they will offer an autism-friendly performance in May with dialed down sound and lighting, special areas designated as quiet, activity spaces for children who need to move around, and the ability for theatergoers to enter and leave the performance space as needed. Other family-friendly shows in London have staged similar relaxed performances, and New York’s Autism Theatre Initiative has been offering accessible theater experiences since 2011 with performances this year including Aladdin and The Lion King. As the number of children with autism in this country and in England continues to rise, these performances are a welcome and worthwhile initiative that offer an inclusive experience for children and adults with special needs as well as their parents. These adapted shows also take the pressure of worrying about how a child is affecting the theater experience of other people. Over the summer, the thoughtful response of an actor performing in The King and I gained viral exposure after he posted about the audience’s negative reaction to an autistic child who many people believed was disrupting the traditional performance. In support of the mother and her decision to bring her child to the show, the actor wrote, “when did we as theater people, performers and audience members become so concerned with our own experience that we lose compassion for others?” These relaxed performances offer an important, less stress option for children with autism and other sensory disorders and their parents to experience the joy and delight of live theater.
via The Stage