Sensory Friendly programming What does this mean?

West Coast catching up to this new style of theater.

"Traditional theater etiquette has been ingrained for many generations of -you need to be quiet during a show-, -you can't move around- and, there is huge demographic that, cannot really do that. There's a lot of people with disabilities out there that can't come to theater because of these etiquettes that have been engraved in us for many years". Shared Segerstrom Center for The Arts Guest Services Coordinator, Kyle Riley. It got me thinking how often we overlook this but, when we go to a show and have it happen, we look down on it. The thing is, we are not informed, aware or even sensitive to people with special needs and, most importantly, people who deserve -just like everybody- the opportunity and the freedom to see a show.

The Costa Mesa based center is 'Spanning the Spectrum' with their family series and with that, offer Sensory Friendly performances. 
What does it mean?...
People with Autism Spectrum and other disabilities may be sensitive to a certain type of lighting, a certain type of volume or setting. Considering this, the shows included in the series have a different tailoring, one that attends to these different needs.
Having the option of seeing a show trough the monitor
I asked Riley how did this series come about and how long did it take them to make a program out of it?...
"It started a couple of years ago, my position is Guest Services Coordinator, so I work with our accessibility services at the center and a couple of years ago, I went to a conference in Chicago called The Leadership in Arts and Disability, where a lot of museums and arts organizations get together and talk about how to make basically, your venue more accessible to the public. And one of the topics that year, was to offer sensory friendly programming to people with Autism Spectrum and other developmental disabilities".

When Kyle came back, he started gearing towards this programming with the Education Department. "It is not the type of programming that you could put together very quickly, it is a process that you have to organize an internal committee to figure out next steps in order to make this a reality. Then, we had an external committee with organizations in the area to really get their feedback on this demographic. We did not really have a lot of firsthand knowledge about their expectations when coming to a show, or maybe their anxiety, so maybe we know exactly what to expect for that. We also had a consultant from Pennsylvania, an occupational therapist who works at Temple University and he has a ton of experience with organizations that have done sensory friendly programming before, like The Kennedy Center. We brought him here and he interviewed families and helped us create some marketing and internal education on what these types of programs are, and how it relates to the community out here. Last Halloween we had our first performance called Room on the Broom and, a lot of preparation went into that. Educating front of house and our box office staff so they would know how to deal when selling tickets on the phone for sensory  family shows.The response has been very positive".

The environment is a very relaxed one and the characteristics of the SF shows are:

  •  Reduction of sound levels, particularly loud or startling sounds. 
  •  Reduction of overwhelming stage lighting.
  • Low ambient lighting in the theater throughout the performance so patrons are able to see should they need to move around or exit the theater.
  • Preparatory materials called Previsit Guides will be provided to patrons so they will know what to expect from the performance. Previsit Guides include pictures with simple captions of the theater going experience.
  • The use of iPads or smart phones are allowed during the performance if they are being used as a communication device.
  • Designated break spaces will be available for those who might feel overwhelmed and need a break from the performance.

    Sensory Friendly Performance Break Area

"  The ushers are also very relaxed, so people do not have to worry about their kid running around the theater. Everybody is in the same boat". 

"Many people do not know what Sensory Friendly is, and who it is geared towards". 

Sensory Friendly Performance Break Area.

There are preview show guides that walk you trough the process of a Sensory Friendly show at the SCFTA.

"In the near future, I would love for other organizations to jump on and start offering this type of programming because, it is a huge demographic that we kind of neglect when we think about theater. The main thing, is to make theater more accessible". 

Sensory Friendly shows? yes please!
When and where
Big Bad Wolf, he's the most misunderstood character in fairy-tale history. Put simply, he has no friends –just incredibly sharp teeth, yellow eyes and his own ideas about personal hygiene. Luckily, Heidi Hood, Little Red’s second cousin twice removed, is brave enough to see past this wolf's bad press, and an unlikely friendship is born. This hilarious, table-turning tale that features puppetry, a poetry competition and plenty of dancing will have you wondering why you were so scared of the wolf in the first place. 

Windmill Theatre: Big Bad Wolf 
Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Samueli Theater. 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA                         
Saturday, March 5, 2016 at 10 a.m. and 1pm. Sunday, March 6, 2016 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Tickets - $20

In person - The Box Office

Online -

TTY number - (714) 556-2746

Group Sales - (714) 755-0236

The 10 a.m. performance on Saturday, March 5 will be sensory-friendly. The 1 p.m. performance on Sunday, March 6 will be ASL interpreted.

Egg is told through the medium of physical theatre, illusion and music. It is a sad, funny and delightful tale that explores the theme of leaving the nest, a theme that resonates as strongly with the adults as it does with children. This gives Egg its real emotional power. The production is a magical experience, sharing the life of the little bird characters in their nest with the audience and telling a story of friendship, wonder and tender loving care. 

Cahoots NI: Egg
Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Samueli Theater. 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA  
Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Sunday, March 20, 2016 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Tickets - $20

In person - The Box Office

Online -

TTY number - (714) 556-2746

Group Sales - (714) 755-0236

The 10 a.m. performance on Saturday, March 19 will be sensory-friendly. 

If you would like to read this piece in Spanish please click HERE

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