Issue October 1, 2013

Theater: Sensory-friendly theater

StageOne develops a show geared toward children with autism

Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, where Christopher Robin plays, Louisville’s premier theater for young audiences is inviting everyone to come spend the afternoon with our favorite willy nilly silly old bear. Committed to producing family-friendly theater for more than 67 years, StageOne’s season opens this month with “The House on Pooh Corner,” based on the classic novel by A.A. Milne. More than just an adventure in heffalumps and honey pots, however, with this production the company will produce a “sensory-friendly performance” intended for children with autism, the first of its kind in the state. StageOne believes all children should have a right to experience live theater and intends to break down traditional barriers that have excluded individuals with these sensitivities in the past.

A growing trend across the country, the purpose of these productions is to “provide an environment around you that is aware of sensory sensitivities,” says Talleri McRae, StageOne’s associate education director. While this production is the first of its kind in Kentucky, many movie theaters and theater companies in larger cities have already begun providing this type of accessibility service, most notably the Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts, which has an entire accessibility office dedicated to meeting the needs of all audience members. Using resources from the Kennedy Center, StageOne’s McRae and director Andrew D. Harris have orchestrated a performance that will enable patrons to move and vocalize as needed, include warnings for loud noises using glow sticks and provide welcoming videos available on the website for families to view before seeing the play.

Using a simple Flipcam, Harris and the staff created these videos with the intention of familiarizing patrons with the building and the theater. “New experiences can be scary,” Harris explains. The goal is to ensure that audience members, particularly children, will be comfortable and ready; Harris collaborated with U of L’s Kentucky Autism Training Center (KATC) to develop the program, and the theatre has also partnered with the nonprofit Families for Effective Autism Treatment (FEAT).

Harris has worked with students with autism through StageOne’s educational outreach programs at Field Elementary School in previous seasons, which he says was his inspiration for making theater accessible to these particular children. He hopes to provide sensory-friendly performances more often in upcoming seasons. The trick, he says, is figuring out which stories lend themselves to this type of production. Classic stories about childhood adventures, like “The House on Pooh Corner,” are ideal.

With full focus on making the space accommodating for all children, autistic or otherwise, the intention for this performance, adds McRae, is to “change the space, and not who they are.”

The sensory-friendly performance of “The House on Pooh Corner” takes place on Oct. 12 at 11 a.m.