Welcoming Autistic Kids to the Theater

The Theater Development Fund, making the arts accessible to millions, has developed special matinees for persons with autism.(Photo: TDF)
The Theater Development Fund, making the arts accessible to millions, has developed special matinees for persons with autism.(Photo: TDF)

Today’s New York Times reports on a new effort by the Theater Development Fund (www.tdf.org). With autism now being diagnosed in 1 out of 150 births, it’s time to encourage a taste for the arts in this population, while at the same time making them feel safe and comfortable  in what can seem a frightening environment.

TDF is the organization behind the famous TKTS booth in Times Square, (with several other locations in Manhattan) where audiences have been buying steeply discounted tickets for Broadway shows for forty years. I would never have seen Jessica Tandy, Richard Burton, Eva La Galliene, Tyne Daly or an early performance of Sweeney Todd without TKTS.  (Unless I second acted-and that’s another post).

TDF has bought out Broadway’s Minskoff Theater-one of the White Way’s largest,  for the October 2nd matinée of The Lion King. Disney has been very helpful in adapting the show for an audience of people with autism. (Remember, this is a wide spectrum).  Strobe lighting is being dimmed a bit.The miking is being adjusted for those frightened by loud noises. Mufasa will purr rather than roar. Kids will be encouraged with bean bag chairs for the hypersensitive-and allowed small hand toys for those who need to squeeze and flex their hands. Rockers will not be discouraged. TDF and Disney want everyone to enjoy The Lion King.

A similar effort has been undertaken at the Crosswoods Cinemas in Columbus. They run special late morning showings on Saturdays for persons with autism, with decreased volume. Many of our local theaters also ‘sign’ performances-and there is no more accessible theater in town than CATCO/Phoenix.

Why isolate this population? Why a separate performance? You gotta start somewhere. I expect audiences will be further blended as the population enters the market place. For now it needs to be comfort and safety first in the theater. Kids on the spectrum develop very slowly indeed-and often improvement is hard to perceive.

On October 2 in New York, Puma, Simba and Timon will welcome and sing for those who may indeed need to rock, roll and sing along.

 

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