On Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 1 p.m., The Lion King, at the Minskoff Theatre, was the first show in Broadway history to offer a performance tailored to the needs of adults and children on the autism spectrum. The Theatre Development Fund, a not-for-profit performing arts service organization whose mission includes making theatre accessible for all audiences, sponsored the special performance.
TDF bought out the entire Minskoff Theater, which has about 1,600 seats, and sold tickets at a discount. TDF worked with autism groups, including Autism Speaks, to help spread the word.
The company of “The Lion King” and a panel of autism experts collaborated on ways to slightly modify the show to make sure autistic children did not have negative reactions to loud or sudden sound or light cues. The volume in the opening number and other scenes, including the sound of a roar, was turned down. All strobe lights and lighting that panned into the house were cut. The sound and light reductions were done electronically so that neither the actors nor the orchestra had to tone down their performances.
Off stage, there were small activity and quiet areas set up in the lobby for children who needed a break from the show. Volunteers from local autism organizations were on hand to offer assistance. Victor Irving, the Minskoff’s house manager, said he asked the pedicab drivers who park outside the Minskoff to refrain from ringing their bike bells.
The results of the show were so positive that TDF is considering organizing additional autism-friendly performances in the future.
TDF Accessibility Programs (TAP) was established in 1979 to provide access to the performing arts for people with physical disabilities. TAP serves theatergoers with mild to profound hearing loss with regularly scheduled open-captioned and American Sign Language-interpreted performances of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows; theatergoers who are partially sighted or blind with special audio-described performances; people who for medical reasons cannot climb stairs; and, people who require aisle seating or use wheelchairs. For more information on TAP’s services, go to www.tdf.org/tap.
Lisa Carling is the director of TAP. She said:
Our goal is to be as inclusive as possible, welcoming families with children and adults on the autism spectrum, including Asperger’s syndrome, to fill the theatre and be assured that everyone involved with the production—from the cast, production crew and theatre staff—is delighted to have the audience there. No judgments—just united support in making the theatre experience as enjoyable as possible for its audience.
The Theater Development Fund runs the TKTS discount ticket booths in New York City. TKTS has two locations in Manhattan. They sell day-of Broadway and Off-Broadway tickets for up to 50 per cent off. It is a win-win situation. The public has the opportunity to buy tickets at a discounted price, and the shows sell seats that would otherwise sit empty. Plus, the profits help patrons with special needs enjoy the theatre experience. It certainly makes me want to buy my Broadway tickets at the TKTS ticket booth.
Congratulations to all the people involved in last weekend’s event at The Lion King. The show was a sell-out and everyone was pleased the audience was thrilled with the experience.
Oh Dear!! No mention of Clay Aiken in this article. I would imagine that Clay was proud that his colleagues participated in this wonderful project. This is Inclusion at it best!