"Into the Woods" at McCarter Theatre Center, the first production for which the theatre offered sensory-friendly performances. (Photo by T Charles Erickson)

6 Theatres Band Together to Offer Relaxed Performances

Theatres in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware will offer a total of 10-12 sensory-friendly performances in the next 2 years.

Six theatres in the Northeast are joining forces in the name of accessibility and inclusivity to offer more autism-friendly performances. Funded by an Audience (R)Evolution Cohort Grant from Theatre Communications Group, the theatres will offer a total of 10 to 12 relaxed performances over the next two years.

Relaxed performances are specially adjusted, sensory-friendly shows aimed at, but not limited to, individuals on the autism spectrum and those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and agoraphobia. The participating institutions are Delaware Theatre Company; McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey; and  Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, People’s Light, Theatre Horizon, and Montgomery Theater in Pennsylvania.

Upcoming relaxed performances for specific shows include:

  • Teen Sherlock by Bill D’Agostino at Montgomery Theater on Oct. 20, 2016 at 7 p.m.
  • Sleeping Beauty: A Musical Panto by Pete Pryor and Samantha Reading, with music and lyrics by Alex Bechtel, at People’s Light on Jan. 15, 2017 at 2 p.m.
  • TBA relaxed performance at McCarter Theatre Center in April 2017
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Dwayne Hartford, based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo, at People’s Light on May 28, 2017 at 2 p.m.

“What’s especially exciting to me about this particular group of theatres and individuals is that each committed to the aspiration of this project and our collaboration before talk of money or the possibility of these grant funds surfaced,” said Marcie Bramucci, project leader and director of community investment at People’s Light, in a statement.

These moves towards greater accessibility aren’t new to the area. McCarter, for instance, began offering relaxed performances during its 2012-13 season, Theatre Horizon has been offering educational programs for individuals on the autism spectrum since 2008, Delaware Theatre Co. has been creating plays for young people with intellectual disabilities since 1992, and People’s Light won a the 2015 Cultural Access Award from Art-Reach in Philadelphia for its educational programs and sensory-friendly performances.

“It has been an absolute honor and joy to offer relaxed performances at McCarter for the past four seasons,” said Erica Nagel, director of education and engagement at McCarter Theatre Center, in a statement. “I’m thrilled by the prospect of how this consortium will take relaxed performance programs in our region to the next level by sharing and refining best practices and building a network of families and caregivers who see live theatre as a safe, supportive, inclusive, and enjoyable place to spend time with their loved ones with sensory differences.”

For PSF and Montgomery, it’s a new and exciting initiative. “Support from TCG and the synergy that comes from working with a cohort of passionate, like-minded theatre makers will dramatically increase our capacity to reach new audiences through relaxed performances,” said PSF’s education director Jill Arington in a statement.

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