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He’s behind you!

By Martin Boniface

For those of you who have read some of my previous blogs, you may recall that last year I wrote about my son Harry and his not so positive experience of attending a local theatre. I won’t go into the detail of that blog, but if you are interested, it can be found here.

As part of that blog I included a list of top ten tips, well 11 actually, on handling similar situations. Number three suggested that, where possible, you might consider attending a relaxed or autism friendly performance of a film or theatre production. I am a great believer in inclusivity and as such, I have mixed views on these separate performances. Part of my concern is around creating a “ghetto mentality” where people with learning difficulties, autism or other challenging behaviour are separated out from other people.

Harry with the cast; Maid Marian and the merry men.

Having said this, My partner Sheila and I took Harry to a “relaxed performance” of a pantomime at The Swan Theatre in Worcester; the same theatre where Harry was asked to leave by a member of the audience last year. I have to say it was a great success with many people with learning difficulties, autism or sensory disorders attending along with families, friends and in some cases, support workers.

The panto, Maid Marian and the merry men, was written by the Chief Executive of the Swan Theatre, Chris Jeager, who decided to stage one of the 62 performances as a relaxed performance. As both the writer and Director, Chris was able to make a number of changes to the performance in order to recognise the needs of the audience. These changes are listed below and Chris spoke to me about them well in advance of the production to check he was on the right track.

This approach worked well, with all the audience enjoying themselves and remaining for the whole performance. Harry had a great time and was even able to pose with the cast for a photo after the show. From a personal point of view, it was great to see Harry enjoy himself and Sheila and I also thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was far more relaxing sitting there knowing that no-one was going to comment on any noises etc made by Harry or members of the audience.

Changes made for the relaxed performance.

  • At the start of the show, Chris came out on stage and explained what was going to happen.
  • Chris introduced each member of the cast before the show, without hats or wigs, to show they were real people
  • The doors to the auditorium were left open during the show.
  • The house lights in the auditorium were left on throughout.
  • “Safe” areas were created around the theatre
  • The band played more quietly
  • There were no pyrotechnics during the show
  • There were no spotlights shining out on the audience
  • A scene where the cast were chasing around and amongst the audience was removed
  • The “ghost gag” was left in, but the audience saw the ghost get into her costume on stage to reduce the fear factor
  • A scene, which used ultra violet to illuminate skeletons dancing, was left in. However with the house lights left on, the audience could see the puppet operators and the UV effect was greatly reduced.
  • After the show, the cast came out to meet the audience and pose for photos.

Clearly you need to pick the right show, but why not talk to your local theatre to see if making changes like those above could be considered for some productions.