“Thanks for having The Lion King autism performance. We loved it. It was my dream to get my son to see this show, and you made it happen for our family.”
“My family had the honor of attending the autism-friendly production of The Nutcracker. We not only saw an amazing production, but we got to experience the added joy of watching my 8-year-old autistic son have a great time; he was treated with dignity and respect. Our entire group was amazed and thrilled to see the sincere kindness and compassion of each staff member and volunteer . . . Once again, Pittsburgh has proved that we are willing to take that extra step to make someone’s day extraordinary. Keep it coming Pittsburgh! You are amazing!”
These are just two of the quotes shared with Vanessa Braun, Manager of Employee Engagement and Director of Accessibility at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and Alyssa Herzog Melby, Director of Education and Community Engagement at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT), after their organizations’ autism-friendly performances in 2013. Thanks in part to their efforts, Pittsburgh, only the third city to develop an autism-friendly production of The Lion King and home to one of the first (if not the first) professional ballet companies to present an autism-friendly show, has become a pioneer when it comes to offering autism- or sensory-friendly performances.
Last Friday, I interviewed Vanessa and Alyssa to learn more about what made their productions so successful. They shared a wealth of helpful information about the process of putting together an autism-friendly show, and today I’d like to highlight eight of their key insights that are especially relevant to others who may consider presenting this type of programming.
It was so amazing to see a sixteen year old who is ‘trapped in his own world’ react to the dancers, lights, and music on stage. We as parents who live in a world of isolation at times because not everyone can relate to having an autistic child, were a group of parents watching the performance knowing we were not alone in our journey, as all around us were parents taking the same journey. We were finally able to relax in an atmosphere where the noise of our children and the flapping of hands was not seen as odd.
A parent who attended The Lion King with her daughter provided the second quote:
The show was awesome, the volunteers so very helpful, and the extra efforts to accommodate families with special kids were very, very appreciated! From the kids on the streets handing out manipulatives, to the ushers welcoming us with literally open arms, to the smiles from the ticket takers, it was obvious there was a lot of time and energy put into making the day special . . . Please, please, please continue to offer these special events at the Benedum. Our daughter LOVES musicals and this is the only way we are able to attend theatrical productions in an economical way. KUDOS to you all for being the frontrunner in such an undertaking.
Hearing Vanessa and Alyssa speak about their productions made me even more excited for the PSO’s sensory-friendly performance next June! You can now visit pittsburghsymphony.org/sensoryfriendly to learn more about the concert. Tickets will go on sale Monday, and you can also return to our blog to learn even more about the program next week!