"We knew that some kids on the autism spectrum were already coming to the New Victory with their schools or their families, but we felt that there was more that we could do to make them feel comfortable and welcome," says Lilaia Kairis, The New Victory's Director of Digital Services, who was one of the passionate team members who worked on this new program.
She continues, "with the help of the consultants at Autism Friendly Spaces, we offered our first autism-friendly performance last year, and we're thrilled to be able to offer four autism-friendly performances this season. To encourage repeat visits, we have a variety of options, from a play with music, a Chinese circus, a contemporary circus and a pop concert! We hope every family will feel they can make The New Victory their cultural home."
What makes an autism-friendly performance different? In addition to carefully choosing the shows that will translate well to autism-friendly performances, the following adjustments are made:
- Sound in the production is lowered and staff warn audience members of any upcoming loud noises during the show.
- Lights in the seating area are dimmed rather than fully dark during the performance.
- A "relaxed atmosphere" allows patrons to talk and vocalize as they wish, as well as leave and re-enter the seating area as needed.
- An "activity area" is available in the lobby with a live video feed of the show, coloring activities and fidget toys if patrons need to take a break from the seating area.
- A "calming corner" is available with fidget toys and bean bag chairs if patrons need a quiet place to relax.
- Autism specialists are available throughout the performance to provide assistance as requested or needed.
- A family restroom (gender-neutral) is designated.
Prior to our autism-friendly shows, our ushers receive additional training from Autism Friendly Spaces. Then, during the evening, they are teamed up with autism specialists. Our front-of-house staff members perform their usual duties, but also can work with these specialists to make sure that any special needs can be met with a smile, a visual support or a helping hand.
Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, blogger at Atypical Familia and mother to Norrin who is an 8-year-old living with autism, joined us for our first autism-friendly performance last year. She told us, "the New Vic made it possible for special needs families to enjoy a show without fear of judgement. It was truly amazing how you transformed the space to accommodate families. The New Victory and Autism Friendly Spaces really thought about the things that would make parents and kids comfortable--from the family restroom, to the visual schedules, to the calming corner. These were the little details that immediately put us at ease. The staff was pleasant, understanding and attentive. I love the theater and I think every kid should have the opportunity to experience it. And I am grateful that you have provided the opportunity for all kids to do so."