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Lion King

Theatre Development Fund launches series of autism-friendly shows on Broadway

By Jessica Turgeon

Following the success of the autism-friendly performance of Broadway's "The Lion King" last October 2011, the Theatre Development Fund, a non-profit organization that focuses on creating accessible theatre, is planning two more sensory-friendly shows for 2012.

Children with autism can be sensitive to bright lights and loud noises, making a trip to see a Broadway show or a live theater performance nearly impossible. As Geraldine Dawson, of Autism Speaks, told HealthDay News, more "typical" performances aren't suited for people with autism whose "stimming" behaviors of repetitive fidgeting or calling out can interfere with the experience of other theatergoers.

In the hopes of creating more accessible theatre, the TDF collaborated with experienced professionals to organize an adjusted performance of "The Lion King." After studying the show, experts were able to identify a few particular moments when adjustments were needed. According to The Associated Press, seven changes were made that only slightly altered the show. The changes were mainly focused on volume control such as lowering the music and certain loud noises including Mufasa's roar and the steam blasts in the Elephant Graveyard scene. The use of strobe lights was also eliminated.

The performance was sold out, with more than 1,000 families on the waiting list. "We found that 81 percent of our audience said this was the first Broadway show they had ever attended as a family," Lisa Carling, director of TDF's Accessibility Program told HealthDay News. The popularity of the event speaks volumes about the need for theater that is accessible to people with different disabilities.

Another autism-friendly version of "The Lion King" is scheduled for late September 2012. Now that the adjustments have been made, the TDF is moving on to amend another Disney show, "Mary Poppins."

Such altered performances offer the opportunity for those unable to sit through a regular performance to enjoy the thrill of live theater, while also creating a safe environment. The changes made to the show allow autistic people to stay focused longer while enabling them to truly enjoy the experience. In case anyone needs a break during the show, a "quiet room" is available with bean bag chairs and coloring books.

According to Mark Roithmayr, President of Autism Speaks, in an interview with BroadwayWorld.com, "Nothing could be better than to have an autism-friendly theatre that is a totally safe place for a family to be with their child with autism." Professionals are also on hand for when assistance might be needed.

The TDF hopes to increase the number of accessible performances of both Broadway shows and local community groups.

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