Sensory Relaxed Performances: How-to and What to Expect

Have you heard the phrase “relaxed performance?”  As a result, are you wondering what that means for a theatre and performers?

Maybe you want to offer a relaxed performance and need help.  Many theatre venues wonder what makes a performance relaxed?  On the other hand, you likely also wonder, is a sensory-friendly performance and relaxed performance the same thing? What about an autism-friendly performance?  Furthermore, what is a multi-sensory performance?

In this article, your questions will be answered!

What is a relaxed performance?

A relaxed performance is designed to make the audience more comfortable.  In particular, the performance itself is changes. As well, the venue make changes. These changes help people with disabilities, disorders, or differences. They can enjoy the experiences along with other patrons.

As the word “relaxed” implies that the experience can be more casual. But overall is more welcoming.  Changes can occur in production, performance delivery and location set up.  Nevertheless, not all relaxed performances offer a similar experience. A relaxed performance may vary from show-to-show. It may also vary from venue-to-venue.

To clarify, relaxed performances offer an improved audience experience. 

If you want to attract more patrons to your performance, then offer a relaxed one like singer, songwriter Christina Martin.

Who offers relaxed performances?

Relaxed performances are becoming more popular worldwide. Furthermore, there are many types of locations that can be made relaxed like theatres, auditoriums, and arenas.  Additionally, different types of performances can also become relaxed.

Types of locations that offer relaxed performances:

  • auditorium
  • arena
  • church
  • concert hall
  • conferences center
  • cruise ship
  • indoor stage
  • outdoor stage
  • private show
  • stadium
  • theatre

Types of performances that can be relaxed:

  • circus
  • comedy
  • dance
  • improv
  • lecture
  • magic
  • mime
  • music
  • musical theatre
  • opera
  • pantomime
  • performance art
  • puppetry
  • recital
  • spoken word
  • theatre
  • workshop
  • worship

Know that sensory-friendly movies and relaxed performances are two different things though!

Man appears on stage in theater with many people.

Who goes to see relaxed performances?

People who experience sensory overload are more likely to seek out a relaxed performance.  For example, did you know over 1/3 of the population is more likely to experiences sensory overload?

Many people experience sensory overload because of sensory sensitivity.  This may be due to an underlying disorder, disability, or difference.  Moreover, the number of people who experience sensory sensitivity is rising every day.  In particular as our world gets busier, noisier, brighter, and more crowded.

Performances are a sensory-rich experience.  For instance, there is a lot to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell at a performance.  Also, did you know you have more than 5 senses?  You have (at least) eight!

However, for many people, performances can be overwhelming to their senses.  In fact, many people experience sensory sensitivity

Why do people go to a relaxed performance?

You likely want to learn more about sensory overload and relaxed performances.

Sensory overload means that the senses are overstimulated or overwhelmed.  “Sensory” refers to the senses.  In addition, it may surprise you to learn that you have more than five senses.

“Overload” refers to being overstimulated and overwhelmed.  As a result, sensory overload occurs when one or more senses are receiving too much stimulation, typically from one’s surrounding environment.

Performances are inherently sensory-rich.  Furthermore, people who experience sensory overload are more likely to feel uncomfortable or in distress during a performance.  That is because their brains cannot handle what is coming through their senses.  For instance, a relaxed performance is more comfortable for them as they are less likely to experience sensory overload.  Most importantly, the other patrons and staff are also more likely to be understanding if they do.

What makes a performance relaxed?

The following recommendations can help make performances more accessible, in particular for people with disorders, disabilities, or differences.  You do not have to undertake all of them.  However, the more you do, the more relaxed the performance.

It is important to know that different countries, states, provinces, or municipalities have different standards regarding accommodations for people with disabilities.  To be clear, you should consult them as well!

Changes to make:

Infographic highlighting ways to make a sensory relaxed performance.
  • Adjust the lighting to be less dramatic
  • Allow and provide enough space for guide dogs and service animals
  • Anticipate more families and more children in the audience
  • Avoid spotlights on the audience
  • Be cautious with stage smoke or fog
  • Confirm your facility meets municipal, provincial or state and national accessibility standards
  • Consider that patrons may move around more than usual during the screening
  • Ensure patrons can reserve seats
  • Expect that the audience may make more noise during the performance
  • Give no or low-cost tickets for a companion or caregiver to a person with a disability
  • Guarantee spots for wheelchair users, and people who use mobility devices and their companions
  • Leave the house lights on or turned up
  • Let the audience know when to expect a sensory-rich component:  e.g. loud or sudden noises, very bright or changing lights
  • Make available sensory bags or sensory kits with fidget toys
  • Offer audio description service with headsets
  • Permit patrons to bring their food or drink
  • Permit patrons to move in and out of the room during the performance
  • Provide closed caption devices
  • Reduce or eliminate scents
  • Seek the input of house staff about what to change to make the venue more relaxed
  • Seek the input of performers about what to change to make the specific performance more relaxed
  • Seek the input of production about what to change to make the specific production more relaxed
  • Tell patrons what to expect during a relaxed performance
  • Turn the volume level down

Why make these changes?


Accessibility standards help not only the comfort of all patrons but also their safety.  Therefore, ensure you meet municipal, state, provincial or national codes around accessibility.


For instance, adjust the lighting to be less dramatic.

The shine of a spotlight can contribute to sensory overload. Therefore, avoid shining a spotlight on the audience.

Leave house lights on or at least turned up a little.  Specifically, dark space can be overwhelming and more difficult to move around in.

Guide dogs and service animals are helpful to people with disabilities.  Both may require some form of certification or documentation in your country.  Ensure that there is space for both the patron and the guide dog or service animal in the seating arrangement.

Relaxed performances are sought out by families with children as children having greater difficulty handling sensory overload.

Movement and balance

Patrons may move around more in their seats and may want to get up and walk around.  Alternatively, allow all individuals to go in and out of the room or hall if needed. Subsequently, the audience may be a little noisier, expect that too.

Provide reserved seating so patrons can pick the most comfortable location.  For example, some people might feel anxious in a middle seat and prefer an aisle seat to be able to leave at any time.  In contrast, others may prefer a middle seat so they don’t have to turn their head to watch.

Make sure there is space for guests who use mobility devices. This includes wheelchairs, canes, crutches, or a walker.  Also, ensure that seating spots are held for their companions.

Offer companions a low or no-cost ticket.  To clarify, this helps remove financial barriers for people with disabilities.

Eliminate stairs and steps.  Most importantly, meet accessibility standards.

Include space for strollers if your performance is geared towards young children.

Taste and smell

Stage smoke and fog can be scary and can make it difficult to breathe.  Consider reducing it or eliminating it from the performance.

Allow people to bring their food and drink.  This makes the performance more comfortable for some people. Not all venues will be able to adhere to this as they are scent-free. 



Provide audio description services (also called audio DESC), described video or video descriptions. This helps people who are blind, have low vision or vision loss.  Audio descriptions can also be helpful for people with learning disabilities.  Moreover, some people simply like to hear information too.  You will need to provide headsets along with this service. This will allow the patron to be able to listen to a narrator describe what is happening during the performance and it may be pre-recorded.


You can provide open and closed captions on a screen for all to see.  Otherwise, you can offer special handheld devices for individual guests to hold and read.  Did you know that closed caption helps more than just people who are deaf?  It can also be helpful for those who are hard of hearing, including individuals that wear hearing aids.  Furthermore, it also helps people with a learning disability.  Additionally, it can help people that are watching a performance in their second language or those who are simply visual/text learners.


It is helpful to turn the overall noise level down.  Consequently, even a small adjustment in volume downward improves the experience for people who experience sensory overload.


Give the audience advance notice of what to expect if there are sensory-rich components of the performance.  First, try to eliminate them.  However, providing advance notice helps people prepare and adjust.

Sensory bags or sensory kits are often given out to children.  They likely include things like: noise-cancelling earmuffs, a fidget toy, a weighted lap toy, and a visual schedule of what to expect during a performance.   Moreover, you can also make earmuffs or noise-reducing headphones available to all audience members.   

Each relaxed performance is unique to the performance itself, the production, and the venue.  Consider involving artists, performers, production staff, and house staff in brainstorming ways to deliver a relaxed performance.  Then, let patrons know what to expect. 

Finally, develop a brochure and share the information on your website.  Similarly, announce some of the changes to the audience before the performance starts.

What else are relaxed performances called?

There are many different words used to describe relaxed performances.  Thus, we encourage the use of sensory-friendly performances because that encompass all expectations.


  • Assisted concert
  • Assisted performance
  • Assisted show
  • Assisted theatre
  • Autism-friendly
  • Autism-friendly Broadway shows
  • Autism-friendly concert
  • Autism-friendly performance
  • Autism-friendly show
  • Autism-friendly theatre


  • Family-friendly concert
  • Family-friendly performance
  • Family-friendly show
  • Family-friendly theatre


  • Kid-friendly concert
  • Kid-friendly performance
  • Kid-friendly show
  • Kid-friendly theatre


  • Relaxed concert
  • Relaxed performance
  • Relaxed show
  • Relaxed theatre


  • Sensory concert
  • Sensory performance
  • Sensory show
  • Sensory theatre
  • Sensory-friendly
  • Sensory-friendly concert
  • Sensory-friendly performance
  • Sensory-friendly show
  • Sensory-friendly play
  • Sensory-friendly theatre
  • Sensory-Friendly Special Needs concert
  • Sensory-Friendly Special Needs performance
  • Sensory-Friendly Special Needs show
  • Sensory-Friendly Special Needs theatre
  • Sensory-relaxed concert
  • Sensory-relaxed performance
  • Sensory-relaxed show
  • Sensory-relaxed theatre
  • Sensory-sensitive concert
  • Sensory-sensitive performance
  • Sensory-sensitive show
  • Sensory-sensitive theatre
  • Special Needs concert
  • Special Needs performance
  • Special Needs show
  • Special Needs theatre

The fantastic singer/songwriter Christina Martin is a sensory-friendly leader, because she is always learning more to offer sensory-friendly shows online and in-real-life. Moreover, she is featured in our mini-documentary, “Too Busy. Too Noisy. Too Bright”.

Furthermore, we want to share a fantastic resource for relaxed performances called Side Door.  Side Door matches performers with spaces.  Furthermore, these spaces can be anywhere, including your own home.  Therefore, you can create your own relaxed performance by making it custom to exactly what you want and need. 

Understand more with this research, “Community Cultural Arts Participation through Sensory Friendly Theatre: Parent and Organization Experiences and Perspectives” by Caroline J. Umeda (2017) that explores the impact of a sensory-friendly theatre program for children with sensory sensitivities 1

Finally, do you want to learn more about similar events? Read on:

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  1. Umeda, C. (2017). Community Cultural Arts Participation through Sensory Friendly Theatre: Parent and Organization Experiences and Perspectives. Digital Library Washington.
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