Have you heard the phrase relaxed performance? Are you wondering what those words mean? Maybe you want to offer a relaxed performance and need help? Do you wonder what makes a performance sensory relaxed? Is a sensory-friendly performance and relaxed performance the same thing? What about an autism friendly performance? Finally, what is a multi-sensory performance? In this article your questions will be answered.
A relaxed performance is one designed to make the audience more comfortable. In particular, the performance itself and venue make changes to help people with disabilities, disorder or differences enjoy the experience along with other patrons.
As the word relaxed implies, the experience can be more casual, but overall more welcoming. Changes can occur in production, performance delivery and location set up. Not all relaxed performances offer a similar experience though. Because the changes that occur in production, the performance or at the location may be all vary for different performances and venues. Relaxed performances strive to offer an improved audience experience. If you want to attract more patrons to your performance, then offer a relaxed one.
Relaxed performances are becoming more popular worldwide. There are many types of locations along with types of performances that can be made relaxed.
People who experience sensory overload are more likely to seek out a relaxed performance. Over 1/3 of the population can experience sensory overload
Many people experience sensory overload because of an underlying disorder, disability or difference. And the number of people who do so is rising every day as our world gets busier, noisier, brighter and more crowded.
Performances are often a sensory-rich experience. There is a lot to see, hear, taste, touch and smell at a performance. However, for many people, in particular people who experience sensory overload, performances can be overwhelming. Listed below are the types of disorders, disabilities or differences that contribute to people of all ages who seek out relaxed performances.
You likely want to understand more about sensory overload and relaxed performances.
Sensory overload means that the senses are overstimulated or overwhelmed. Sensory refers to the senses. You have five senses: what you see, hear, taste, touch and smell. It may surprise you to learn that you have more than five senses.
Your vestibular sense is your sense of balance. It keeps you upright and helps prevent you from falling over.
Your sense of proprioception is your movement sense. It tells you how to move your muscle and joints so that you are coordinated.
You also have an eighth sense, a sense of your internal organs, called interoception. It tells you when you are hungry, thirsty or need to go to the bathroom for example.
Overload, being overstimulated and overwhelmed means in excess or a load with too great a burden. Sensory overload means that one or more senses is receiving too much stimulation, usually from the environment or place they are in at the time.
Performances are often sensory-rich and people who experience sensory overload are more likely to feel uncomfortable or in distress during a performance because their brain cannot handle what is coming through their senses. A relaxed performance is more comfortable. They are less likely to experience sensory overload. The other patrons and the performance staff are also more likely to be understanding if they do.
The following recommendations when implemented make performances more accessible for people with disorders, disabilities or differences. It is important to know that different countries, states, provinces, or municipalities have different standards regarding accommodations for people with disabilities; you should consult them as well.
Adjusting the lighting to be less dramatic helps reduce the visual sensory from being overwhelmed.
Guide dogs and service animals are helpful to people with disability. Both may require some sort of certification or documentation in your country. Ensuring that there is space for both the patron and the guide dog or service animal in the seating arrangement is also helpful.
Relaxed performances are sought out by families with children because children are less able to handle sensory overload.
The shine of a spotlight can contribute to sensory overload. Avoid shining a spotlight on the audience.
Stage smoke and fog can be scary or make it difficult to breath, reducing it to the stage or eliminating it altogether is helpful.
Accessibility standards help not only the comfort of all patrons but also their safety. Ensure you meet municipal, state, provincial or national codes around accessibility.
Patrons may move around more in their seats, they may also want to get up and walk around or go in and out of the room. Allow them to do so. The audience may thus be a little more noisy, expect that too.
Provide reserved seating so patrons can pick the location that is most comfortable. For example, some people might feel anxious in a middle seat and prefer an aisle seat so they can leave at any time. Other might prefer a middle seat so they don’t have to turn their heard to watch.
Make sure there is space for guests who use a wheelchair or other mobility device like a cane, crutches or a walker. Also make sure that seating next to that spot is held for their companions.
Offering companions a low or no cost ticket also helps remove financial barriers for people with disability.
Eliminate stairs and steps. Once again, meet accessibility standards.
Leave house lights on or at least turned up a little. A completely dark space can be overwhelming, but also more difficult to move around in.
Give the audience advance notice of what to expect if there are sensory-rich components of the performance if you cannot eliminate them. Advance notice helps people prepare and adjust and not be scared.
Sensory bags or sensory kits are often given out to children. They likely include noise-canceling earmuffs, a fidget toy, a weighted lap toy and a visual schedule of what to expect during a performance. You can also make earmuffs or ear protection available to all audience members.
Audio description services, also called audio DESC, described video or video description helps people who are blind or have low vision or vision loss. Audio description can also help people with learning disabilities or simple people who like to hear information more than they see information. You will need to provide headsets along with the service. The patron listens to a narrator describe what is happening during the performance.
Letting people bring their own food and drink just makes the performance more comfortable when snacks are part of the experience. Some venues are scent-free though and then food and drink are not allowed inside.
You can provide open closed caption on a screen for all to see or offer special hand held devices for individual guests to hold and read. Did you know that closed caption helps more than just people who are deaf? It helps people who are hard of hearing, even those who wear hearing aids along with people with learning disability, people for whom the performance is in a second language or people who are simply visual/text learners.
It is helpful to turn the overall noise level down. Even a small adjustment in volume downward can improve the experience for people who experience sensory overload.
Finally, each relaxed performance is unique to the performance itself, the production and the venue. Involve artists, performers, production staff and house staff in brainstorming how to deliver a relaxed performance. Then let patrons know what to expect. Develop a brochure, share the information on your website and even announce the changes to the audience before the performance starts.
There are many different words used to describe relaxed performances. We encourage the use of sensory-friendly performances because that encompasses all expectations.
Christel Seeberger worked as an occupational therapist for more than 25 years helping people with sensory sensitivity who experience sensory overload. Christel has sensory sensitivity herself; she has hearing loss and wears hearing aids. She founded Sensory Friendly Solutions in 2016 to bring together the sensory friendly community around the world to help people who are interested in sensory friendly living and businesses who offer sensory friendly experiences.