Bringing Down the Curtain on Sensory Overload

A Guide to Autism-Friendly and Sensory-Friendly Broadway Shows

The dazzling lights, the booming orchestra, the electrifying energy of a live performance – Broadway offers a truly magical experience. But for some individuals with sensory sensitivities, autism, or other neurodiversities, the same elements that make Broadway captivating can also be overwhelming. This can lead to sensory overload, a state of agitation or distress caused by excessive sensory input.

The good news? More and more theaters are embracing sensory-friendly and autism-friendly performances, making the magic of Broadway accessible to a wider audience. This blog post is your one-stop guide to understanding these types of performances, their benefits, and actionable steps to create a more inclusive theatrical experience. Whether you’re a theater professional looking to expand your offerings or a curious patron seeking a more comfortable experience for yourself or a loved one, this post is packed with valuable information.

Lights, Camera, Action! The Rise of Sensory-Friendly Shows on Broadway

Sensory sensitivities can encompass a wide range of experiences. Some individuals may find loud noises distressing, while others may be overwhelmed by bright lights or strong smells. Over 96% of autistic children report hyper or hypo sensory senstivities! These sensitivities are not limited to autism; people with sensory processing disorders, PTSD, post-concussion syndrome, dementia, and even those with temporary sensitivities like low vision or hearing loss can also experience sensory overload.

Globally, almost 1 in 6 people experience a disability, according to the World Health Organization. This translates to a significant portion of the population who might otherwise avoid theater experiences due to sensory concerns. By creating sensory-friendly performances, theaters are opening their doors to a vast and loyal audience, fostering inclusivity, and expanding their reach.

What Makes a Broadway Show Sensory-Friendly?

Sensory-friendly performances incorporate adjustments to minimize sensory overload and create a more welcoming environment. Here are some key features:

  • Reduced Sensory Input: Lowered sound volumes, dimmed lighting, and the elimination of flashing lights can significantly reduce sensory overload. Some theaters may also offer designated quiet areas where patrons can take a break from the stimulation of the performance.
  • Visual Aids: Social narratives or playbills with clear explanations of the plot, sound effects, and lighting changes can help prepare patrons for what to expect during the show.
  • Relaxation Areas: A designated space with comfortable seating and calming activities can provide a refuge for patrons who need a sensory break.
  • Trained Staff: Staff members who are knowledgeable about sensory sensitivities and autism can provide support and answer questions. This can help create a more welcoming and understanding atmosphere for all patrons.
digital signs promoting broadway shows

Understanding Autism-Friendly Broadway Shows

While sensory-friendly practices are essential for creating inclusive theater experiences, autism-friendly performances go a step further for a large segment of the audience. People with autism may also experience challenges with social interaction, communication, and unpredictable routines. Importantly, about 1 in 36 children in the USA are autistic. Here’s how autism-friendly performances address these needs:

  • Social Skills Training: Some theaters offer pre-show workshops or social narratives that help explain social cues, theater etiquette, and what to expect during the performance.
  • Clear Communication: Simple and direct language is used in signage, announcements, and interactions with patrons. Providing clear expectations and avoiding surprises can help reduce anxiety.
  • Predictable Routines: Maintaining consistent routines before, during, and after the performance can provide a sense of comfort and security for individuals with autism. Theaters may offer opportunities to familiarize themselves with the theater space beforehand.

Sensory-Friendly vs. Autism-Friendly: What’s the Difference?

Sensory-friendly practices are the foundation for creating inclusive theater experiences. Autism-friendly performances build upon this foundation by addressing the specific needs of autistic individuals. Think of sensory-friendly practices as the umbrella term that encompasses autism-friendly experiences.

A Night at the Theater: A Sensory-Friendly Success Story

Imagine 10-year-old Sarah, a bright and curious child on the autism spectrum. Sarah loves stories, but the lights, sounds, and crowds of a traditional theater experience have always been overwhelming for her. However, tonight is different. Sarah and her family are attending a sensory-friendly performance of “The Lion King.” The theater has dimmed the lights slightly, lowered the sound effects, and provided Sarah with a social narrative that explains the story and characters. During a particularly loud scene, Sarah excuses herself to the designated quiet area, where she can take a break and return to the performance when she’s ready. Thanks to the sensory-friendly adjustments, Sarah is able to experience the magic of live theater alongside her family, creating a lasting memory.

performers rehearsing for a show

Making Your Theater a Beacon of Inclusivity: Actionable Steps for Sensory-Friendly Success

The story of Sarah is just one example of the transformative power of sensory-friendly theater. If you’re ready to embrace inclusivity and open the doors of your theater to a wider audience, here are some actionable steps you can take:

  • Conduct a Needs Assessment: Start by understanding the sensory sensitivities and needs of your potential audience. Consider partnering with local organizations that support individuals with autism, sensory processing disorders, or other disabilities.
  • Assemble a Sensory-Friendly Team: Create a dedicated team within your theater to spearhead the development and implementation of sensory-friendly practices. This team should include individuals with expertise in sensory sensitivities, autism, and theater production.
  • Partner with Sensory Friendly Solutions: We are a leading organization that provides training, certification, consulting, and a product recognition program to help businesses and organizations become more sensory-friendly. Their resources and expertise can be invaluable in guiding your theater’s journey towards inclusivity.
  • Take our Sensory Friendly Performances Course: Sensory Friendly Performances is one of the many courses you get access to in our training-membership!
  • Pilot a Sensory-Friendly Performance: Start by offering a single sensory-friendly performance of a popular show. This allows you to test your adjustments, gather feedback from patrons, and refine your approach before expanding your offerings.
  • Promote Your Sensory-Friendly Initiatives: Spread the word about your sensory-friendly performances! Utilize your website, social media channels, and partnerships with local organizations to reach potential patrons who may benefit from these experiences.
  • Learn a little about our low cost Training Membership that gives you access to all the courses you need to offere a sensory-friendly experience:

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Building a More Inclusive Theater Experience: It’s a Collaborative Effort

Creating a truly sensory-friendly theater environment requires collaboration. Consider involving your actors, stage crew, ushers, and even concession staff in sensitivity training. This will ensure a consistent and welcoming experience for all patrons.

The Benefits Extend Beyond the Stage

The positive impact of sensory-friendly performances extends far beyond the stage door. By embracing inclusivity, your theater demonstrates its commitment to social responsibility and community engagement. This can attract new patrons, strengthen your brand reputation, and foster a more positive and welcoming atmosphere for everyone.

Beyond Broadway: Sensory-Friendly Experiences Across the Arts

The principles of sensory-friendly practices can be applied to a variety of performance venues and art forms. Museums, art galleries, concert halls, and even movie theaters can benefit from implementing adjustments to create more inclusive experiences for patrons with sensory sensitivities.

The Future of Theater is Inclusive

The landscape of theater is evolving, and sensory-friendly performances are at the forefront of this change. By embracing inclusivity, theaters are ensuring that the magic of live performance is accessible to everyone. This not only expands their audience but also creates a more vibrant and diverse theatrical experience for all.

Ready to Explore More?

We hope this blog post about sensory-friendly Broadway shows has ignited your passion for creating sensory-friendly theater experiences! Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful:

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