Fraser, Children’s Theatre collaborate on gentler plays
When a character yells or thunder booms or lights flash in a Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) production, most kids are happy to be part of the chaos. But for children with sensory issues, including many with autism, those kinds of sounds and lights can be jarring and upsetting, and may prevent them from enjoying the show.
Luckily for those children and their families, CTC has for the last two years worked with Fraser to put together a sensory-friendly performance for each of its productions. “Organizing these special performances is so worthwhile,” says CTC education program associate and sensory friendly liaison Madeline Geier. “We’ve had wonderful feedback from families, many of whom are for the first time able to attend our shows with their entire family.”
The process starts with Madeline attending a show and developing a minute-by-minute sensory guide and social narrative. Then Fraser lead sensory therapist Gina Gibson attends a performance, such as Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas! She notes aspects of the show that could prove challenging to children with autism (as well as sensory processing issues, PTSD, anxiety, etc.) such as high volume, unexpected flashes of light, or extremely emotional scenes. Next Gibson meets with Geier and other CTC staff to discuss how to alter the show while ensuring that its essential character remains consistent. Together they also produce a social narrative and sensory guide, which are sent to schools as well as anyone who buys tickets to the special performance.
The “attitude of the performance” is another key part of its being sensory friendly, says Gibson. “Everyone is welcome at the show, and the actors know that audience members might be moving or talking more than usual—and that’s okay.” Gibson does an hour-long training with all CTC staff—ushers, concession workers, lighting, sound and production crew—who will work the day of the sensory-friendly performance. As for the actors, says Geier, “They’re game! And they’re happy to adjust their performances as needed.”
Quiet spaces are also available around the theater as are Fraser therapist with their backpacks full of sensory supplies such as earplugs, headphones, fidget toys and snacks.
Both Geier and Gibson credit U.S. Bank with getting the ball rolling on this project. “They’re the financial partner that makes it all possible,” says Gibson.
And U.S. Bank staff are pleased with how the partnership has turned out, says Kenna Poppler, vice president of Twin Cities community relations at U.S. Bank. “It’s been fantastic!” she continues. “This has really helped make theater more inclusive in our community—more accessible and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of their needs. Diversity and inclusion are important to U.S. Bank and to our partners, Fraser and CTC.”
“CTC has been offering sensory-friendly performances since 2014,” says Geier. “We are so grateful for the contribution from U.S. Bank and the partnership with Fraser because it has really strengthened those performances and made our productions more accessible to more families in the community.”
Photo courtesy of CTC