Relaxed Performances (sometimes called “Sensory-friendly performances”) have been tested on Broadway, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in the West End, and in local theatres around the world.
The point? To provide a theatre experience for people who have a hard time conforming to traditional theatre etiquette. They are special performances for anyone who may find attending theatre daunting, particularly those on the autism spectrum, those who may make involuntary noises, or anyone else who would benefit from a relaxed environment. It is also an attractive option for parents with young children who have trouble keeping them quiet during shows.
Theatres make several changes including turning the house lights on during the show, calling out and talking are allowed and encouraged, all reactions are good. If anyone needs to leave the theatre during the performance, ushers will help them exit quickly and safely. Often there are even toys and snacks in the lobby for young audience members who need a break. Sometimes the cast is on stage as the audience enters, welcoming them and providing a safe space.
Theatres that regularly hold relaxed performances include the Stratford Festival, Shakespeare’s Globe, various Broadway and West End theatres, the National Theatre of the UK, and many more around the world.
Carousel Theatre for Young People is one of the first Vancouver theatres to take relaxed performances seriously, including them in all their shows this season. Likely because they are a theatre for young audiences, the company has taken it upon themselves to ensure everyone can enjoy their shows. Daisy Hulme, an actor in Carousel’s Romeo and Juliet, calls relaxed performances “very valuable”, explaining that “they give people who wouldn’t normally feel able to make it to shows an opportunity to experience theatre”.
However, it is not just Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) that needs to be accessible. This year, Bard on the Beach announced for the first time that they will be holding a relaxed performance of one of their shows. They will have one relaxed performance of Much Ado About Nothing on September 10th at 2 pm.
While these are significant steps in the right direction, is it enough to have one relaxed performance in a season? Probably not. If theatre is meant to represent the world as it exists, it should also be accessible to the entire population.
Other things can help make theatre more accessible, such as having sign language interpreters on stage or described performances with services such as Vocal Eye. These are all small steps towards a world of theatre where everyone can share stories together and learn from each other. Theatre should not exclude anyone. The theatre community is an accepting and loving one; when bringing an audience into the equation, why should that acceptance cease?
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