Dr. Peggy Bown & Laura Caswell – Reimagining Sensory-Friendly Events and Locations

In This Episode

Dr. Peggy Bown, Dentist, Peggy Bown Dentistry and Laura Caswell, Director of Education, Neptune Theatre share how patient-first dentistry and relaxed theatre performances are more alike than different.  Both seek to make people feel safe and protected by becoming sensory-friendly.

About Our Guests Dr. Peggy Bown and Laura Caswell

Dr. Peggy Bown

Dr. Peggy Bown, Dentist.
Dr. Peggy Bown, Dentist

Dr. Bown is originally from Newfoundland and is a 2001 graduate of Dentistry at Dalhousie University.  Initially in a group practice, Dr. Bown later opened her new, modern and fully digital clinic. Peggy Bown Dentistry, in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 2015.  Her passion is creating the ultimate patient experience and performing interdisciplinary treatment planning using digital technology.

Besides being involved in many local charities, Dr. Bown also serves as the Canadian Ambassador for Slow Dentistry®️ and a world non-profit Organization, the Humble Smile Foundation.

Dr Bown’s passion for the patient experience stems from childhood exposure to dentistry where patients were made to feel special, educated, and included in the treatment process. This is a very important part of the culture at Peggy Bown Dentistry to this day and it really shines through throughout the course of this podcast and is a perfect sensory-friendly example.

Laura Caswell

Laura Caswell is a performer, director, choreographer, cabaret artist, producer and arts educator currently based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Born and raised in Ottawa, she has performed all over Canada and trained in New York and London, UK earning a Masters in Performance. She has also studied puppetry, dance, comedy and singing extensively and loves to explore different types of theatre. Now adding Zoom teaching and facilitation to the list, Caswell is eager to learn and grow with different communities. She has been the Director of Education at Neptune Theatre since 2017.

Laura Caswell, Director of Education, Neptune Theatre
Laura Caswell, Director of Education, Neptune Theatre

Laura Caswell is a performer, director, choreographer, cabaret artist, producer and arts educator currently based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Born and raised in Ottawa, she has performed all over Canada and trained in New York and London, UK earning a Masters in Performance. She has also studied puppetry, dance, comedy and singing extensively and loves to explore different types of theatre. Now adding Zoom teaching and facilitation to the list, Caswell is eager to learn and grow with different communities. Laura has been the Director of Education at Neptune Theatre since 2017.

Takeaways From This Episode

What does it mean to be a pioneer in sensory-friendly examples?

As Dr. Peggy Bown said, it starts with vision

“My vision for that practice was to make it all about the patient experience. And maybe that’s partly how Sensory Friendly Solutions kind of found me too because I really know how important it is and how difficult and how much anxiety dentistry kind of brings with it.”

Throughout the course of this podcast we’ve kept the story of human beings at the centre.  Perhaps now more than ever, this is a critical component of how we work and how we live and Sensory Friendly Solutions are coming to the forefront of the human-centred design movement.

For Laura Caswell and Neptune Theatre, the story starts in 2017

“…my relation to sensory friendly and relaxed performance is that I started my job here in 2017 and that was at a time when I will say sensory friendly performances and relaxed performances were gaining ground and people were starting to think about them here in Canada.”

“And I will admit, I didn’t really know what that entailed…”

“With that I suddenly found myself becoming the rep for relaxed performances here at The Neptune Theater as part of my job here as director of education.”

How has COVID-19 effected the mission statement?

For Dr. Peggy Bown, it meant taking a deep breath and digging deep

“It gave me a lot of time to look at my systems and really take a deep breath and go, “Okay, what would I change? I’ve got the time right now. What would I change? And, what are the things I would do differently when I do open? How do I want my future to look?” So I took that time, first to be stressed for a few weeks and then to just dig deep, connect with my team and then come up with strategies and ways that I was going to come back stronger, better than ever.”

“In fact, we created a new mission statement in that May. And just all about together as a team, stronger, better than ever. We wanted that to be the message from internally, from how we felt about how we were going to come back, and also we wanted our patients to know we cared.”

Laura Caswell drew analogies from the pandemic to the very nature of Sensory Friendly Solutions.

“…it’s really interesting to me because COVID friendly is inherently relaxed performance friendly. It’s so interesting…We have reduced audiences and we have to have more people on deck and we have to have clear signage and arrows and we have to send videos so people know how their day’s going to go. And we have to give extra communication.”  I’m just like, “Yeah, that’s what relaxed performances are basically.” So I just find it interesting, the link between accessibility in times of general health and safety.”

As of June this year the word sensory overload was being searched over 40,000 times a month on Google. That might not seem like a very big number but it’s a trend increase of 50% from June of 2019. What are we all going though right now?

For Laura, shutting off at the end of the day has been a challenge.

“And I don’t know if it’s a hero complex or workaholic complex.”

“But then also I find myself feeling this pressure to stay on top of everything because I’m also a performer and a creator. And as soon as someone posts a video of this amazing song and dance that they recorded and put … Part of me goes, “Oh my gosh, why didn’t I do something like that? I have to create a video too.”

“With the latest news broadcast on my phone, and my tablet’s on the other side where I can write my next list. It’s a lot.”

We’ve heard time and time again on this podcast that we are inundated by a constant barrage of media and in a crisis, like the one we’re in, it can feel like we need to be tuned in at all times.  For Dr. Peggy Bown, a long walk helps her find space.  We will dig in to the strategies and tactics of our guests later in the episode.

In these sensory-friendly examples, what is the key to success?

For Dr. Peggy Bown, it starts with communication and the story of her most memorable experience as a patient herself

“It was that he cared about that I understood what was going to happen and that I felt safe in that environment. So he explained everything…Explaining how it was going to feel and how I was going to feel and why this was happening and really directly continued to care about my emotions and my understanding. Education and how you make that patient feel from an emotional standpoint became that pivotal thing for me…”

It also includes being early on the adoption curve of innovative technology.

“So we do everything as digitally as possible and then with that digital file we’re not only able to create products for the patient…But it can also be then used to educate my patients. When I take the time to use it to educate the patients, they start to relax because they become a part of the experience and they become a part of understanding what’s going on.”

“I want to change how people feel about dentistry so it’s part of my bigger why.”

Is setting an important factor in these sensory-friendly examples?


“I know that that will trigger an emotional response. So I’m very careful to think about what it’s like to be a patient. Walking through the clinic, what do I see? What do I hear? What kind of smells? Is the lighting good? Is this a bright open space? Everything. From the design details of my clinic to how I even talk to my patients.”

For Laura and her team at Neptune Theatre, setting is everything.

“As far as shows here, our first show that was a relaxed performance here was Shakespeare in Love…with the assistance of Autism Nova Scotia. And we came up with our visual stories and we got our signage, we trained our staff. It went really well.”

“And then cut to Christmas, it was Cinderella and that was way bigger. Bigger audience, bigger experience and it was really great…It was open to the public but they were notified that it was a relaxed performance. And the most fun thing is that we don’t do applause during those shows. We shake our hands like fun jazz hands or a gentle snap. The fun thing was watching and talking to the artists after the show. Talking to the actors and the stage managers and the way the whole thing hit them all differently.”

Sensory-friendly examples that bring other benefits

In a fascinating way, it has also enhanced the experience of some of the actors.

“…the actors find that when they do these relaxed performances they kind of get a little back to like the natural storytelling elements because it’s not all about the big lights and the big loud bangs in our big musicals. It’s back to the core story.”

It has also facilitated a remarkable experience for those who may not otherwise attend events like the theatre.

For instance, “…when we did Color Purple there was a group of adults, many of them had never been to our theater before. And this one person was at the back and when they were singing, they could not sit still. They were just dancing in their seats just out of joy and energy and I love that person could come to the theater, enjoy that show, not be told to be quiet, not be told to sit still. That to me was why we do it. Everyone should be able to enjoy a night at the theater.”

What strategies do Laura and Dr. Bown implement in their daily life to reduce the noise of the current moment?

For Laura Caswell, the answer revolves around vulnerability.  Although we would love to have looked back (and forward in some respects) and say that we have doubled down on all of our good natured habits, for many of us this isn’t the case.  This has been a trying year for the whole world and we thank you for your honesty Laura.

“I’m trying to make a conscious effort to be more …I used to do yoga all the time.  But I think now I’m at a point where I’m almost scared to start these things like dance and yoga that have meant so much to me because I’ll be so sad and scared of where I’ve ended up right now after not doing a lot of self care. So I wish I had more motivational knowledge.”

For Dr. Peggy Bown, it comes with having a plan.

“I think one of the things that has helped me through is just remembering what my good habits are and then trying to make that promise to myself. Like on Sunday’s I will sit down and say okay, what do I really want to accomplish this week?”

Having said that, it’s also about forgiving ourselves when we slip.

“And I do have a fairly strict morning routine that I … Again, not perfect. We’re all guilty of certainly not meeting all our commitments for the week. But the old Peggy would have probably given herself a guilt trip about that.”

“…More self care. A little bit more patient with myself. And just being happy with what I can do in a day. So I do really do have a pretty good morning routine. I walk my dog and workout and I try these things. But I certainly slip…”

She also chose to lean in to her team for support.

“I do have this team to lead that I feel very high responsibility to make them feel that I’m taking care of them. So I feel like if I don’t take care of myself first then I won’t be able to do that and that’s a bigger why. That would be worse. I’d rather not let them down. And, I’d be okay with letting myself down before I would let them down. So because I have to get up and I have to show up with that, I try to put a lot of energy into my routine.”

Learn more about sensory-friendly examples available at Dr. Peggy Bown Dentistry and the Neptune Theatre.

You can also read more about how Dr. Bown creates a sensory-friendly experience for her patients and what parents can do on their own to create a sensory-friendly dentist visit.

Reflections on Season 1

For Part 2 of Episode #10, industry leader and Sensory Friendly Solutions CEO Christel Seeberger joined us to reflect on the impactful themes of Season 1.  

Head directly to 37:00 in the episode to hear our Season 1 Recap.

Gratitude to you, the listener 

If Episode #10 of the Sensory Friendly Solutions Podcast was your very first episode, welcome.  If you’ve been with us the whole way, thank you for walking with us on this journey.  Find a complete list of all our Season 1 episodes.

Download the Sensory Friendly Solutions Podcast Episode #10 transcript in PDF or HTML.

We look forward to seeing you back next week for a very special Bonus Episode of the Sensory Friendly Solutions Podcast.

Thank you for being on this journey with us.

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About This Podcast

Podcast leadership is provided by Sensory Friendly Solutions Founder & CEO Christel Seeberger.

Season 1 was produced by Matt George and is engineered by the great Zachary Pelletier and was part of the Unsettled Media Podcast Network.

Our Sponsors

Season One of The Sensory Friendly Solutions Podcast was supported by New Brunswick Community College as part of the Community Resource Awareness During and After COVID-19 applied research project funded by the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and New Brunswick Health Research Foundation.  Learn more about NBCC’s efforts to transform lives and communities.

And thank you to our sponsor Taking it Global! Ensuring that youth around the world are actively engaged and connected in shaping a more inclusive, peaceful and sustainable world. As part of their Rising Youth initiative, they are looking for young people who are inspired with ideas and ready to take action through youth-led community service grants. Head to risingyouth.ca to learn more and to become the next Rising Youth grant recipient.

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