Broadway’s Theater Development Fund (TDF) has kicked off a fantastic new program called the Autism Theater Initiative, with the goal of creating a more conducive environment for autistic children and their families to enjoy the Great White Way.
The program has two key components. The first is to review Broadway shows for children and find ways to soften portions of the shows that may be upsetting to children on the autism spectrum, such as sections of very bright light or loud sound.
The second is to run the shows entirely for an audience of special needs children, so that, as TDF’s director of accessibility Lisa Carling explained to the New York Times, families can attend “… and not be afraid of judgment from other theatergoers who might not understand why a child is doing repetitive movements, or rocking back and forth, or why a child might need to wear headphones or get up in the middle of a song and take a time out in the lobby.”
The Autism Theater Initiative’s first performance, which has already sold out, is a matinee of “The Lion King” on October 2nd. Feedback from parents and the autism community at large has been so positive that they are considering reworking other shows for future performances.
Carling says TDF first had autism experts review “The Lion King” to identify scenes that might need adjusting, and that Disney was very receptive to all of their suggestions, from changing the production while still maintaining the integrity of the show to “… making adjustments to the production, and to making accommodations in the lobby by designating areas that could be quiet areas. We have areas where children can sit down in a beanbag chair or play with a squishy ball or use crayons and paper or listen to music.”
The New York Times reports they’ve also conducted “… educational sessions with the house staff and cast so that people will be familiar with the possible types of behavior [of children in attendance], and will know how to be comforting.”