On today’s episode we’re taking a virtual trip to NYC’s “great white way” via a Broadway theater trip report! I recently spoke with Melissa Morgenlander, a native New Yorker and self-described “musical theater geek,” who gathered up enough courage to take her 8 year-old son, Quentin, to a performance of Disney’s The Lion King, an experience that brought her to tears – but in a very good way.
Before you listen to Melissa and Quentin’s story, however, I need to tell you the story of the Autism Theatre Initiative, which made this amazing mother-son experience possible.
The Autism Theatre Initiative is one of the many accessibility programs developed through TDF, the Theatre Development Fund. TDF is a non-profit service organization for the performing arts.
TDF launched the Autism Theatre Initiative with the goal of making theatre accessible to children and adults on the autism spectrum, as well as their families. Fittingly enough, the first autism-friendly performance of a Broadway show was Disney’s The Lion King on Oct. 2, 2011, and the program has grown steadily since that time.
So, you’re probably asking yourself, what, exactly, makes a theatre performance “autism-friendly?” Well, it’s all about taking things easy on the senses:
- The house lights are never completely turned off; they are left dimmed so that the audience will be more comfortable.
- Loud noises are kept to a minimum, and if there are going to be loud sounds, ushers alert the audience with light sticks on the side.
- Quiet areas are set up in the lobby and at various levels of the theater, stocked with quiet toys, bean bag chairs, and books.
- Volunteers are on hand to help audience members who might have to leave mid-show to take a break. They also hand out fidget toys to keep wandering hands busy or calm.
- A printable social story about going to the theater is available online prior to the show, as well as a video to prepare guests for the experience before they arrive.
Melissa blogs about her adventures with autism, media and technology at The IQ Journals and I highly recommend that you check it out!
Upcoming ATI’s Broadway Shows for the 2015-2016 Season
Wicked Feb. 7, 2016 at 1pm
Aladdin March 6, 2016 at 1pm
(Additional Shows May Be Announced Soon.)
Here is a link to the Facebook Post by Kelvin Moon Loh that we mentioned in the show.
Remember to stop by specialmouse.com and click on the red “Speak Pipe” tab located on either the blog or podcast page. Be a part of our annual tradition as members of the Special Mouse listening community record a message for our Thanksgiving episode! I can’t wait to listen! And, as a bonus, everyone who leaves a message will be entered into a drawing to win a set of fun Disney character refrigerator magnets, handmade by listener Kerry Kingdon!
Thanks for listening,