NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Theatre Development Fund has announced a new roster of Broadway performances for the 2013-14 season – specifically geared toward people with autism.
The fund’s Autism Theater Initiative will be staging a special performance of Disney’s “The Lion King” at 1 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Minskoff Theatre; “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark” at 2 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Foxwoods Theatre, and “Wicked” at 1 p.m. March 2 of next year at the Gershwin Theatre.
The shows are presented in what the initiative called a “friendly, supportive environment” for both children and adults with autism and their families or friends. But in no way does that mean the performances are toned down or fundamentally changed, according to Theatre Development Fund director of accessibility programs Lisa Carling.
“If there are cases where there are strobe lights or sudden bursts of sound, those might be modified slightly to soften it, but overall, it’s the same wonderful performance, and we always encourage the actors to give it their all,” Carling told WCBS 880. “There’s no need to tone anything down, so to speak. Any adjustments are technical.”
Everyone involved in the performances is prepared in advance, Carling said.
“We do training sessions with the house staff so the ushers know what to expect, and the cast as well – they’re prepared. It is an atypical audience,” she said. “There’s apt to be vocalization or movement during the performance, and it in no way means that the audience is not enjoying it, They’re having a wonderful time.”
There are also extra accommodations in the lobby, she said.
“If children or adults get restless and they want to get up, stretch their legs, or have some quiet time, we have everything, you know, that anyone could need. We’ve got wonderful fidgets, very soothing; a tactile, squishee ball; coloring magazines to look at; very comfy bean bag chairs,” Carling said.
The Broadway performances especially for those with autism began in 2011, with a sold-out performance of “The Lion King.” Since then, a performance of “Mary Poppins” and a second staging of “The Lion King” also have been called a success.
Alan Hilfer, chief psychologist at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, said the effort is about making theatrical productions accessible to those with disabilities.
“The analogy here for my point would be when we began to make theaters and arenas wheelchair accessible. This is making these events accessible to a different kind of disability,” Hilfer told WCBS 880.
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