I think every generation endeavors to improve upon their own childhood experiences when they establish families of their own. Chad and I sit back and often marvel at what we’ve accomplished so far in our lives: we have jobs — good jobs, we own a house, we have cars that run well. At age five, our son has traveled more than Chad and I did (combined!) before the age of 21. He’s been to Disney World; Boston; Maine and Hawaii to visit family. And now, dear friends, I am here to share the news: Nate’s going to see his first show on Broadway.
If you didn’t know, I’m a showkid. I grew up doing dancing and doing theatre in high school, got my undergraduate and graduate degrees in theatre, and have worked professionally in the theatre for almost my entire career. Being from a rural Hawaiian island, I didn’t see a professional show until I was sixteen and I didn’t see a Broadway show until I was in my early twenties, after I graduated from college and moved to New York. At the wee age of five, Nate is going to see his first Broadway show. And not any show — he’s going to see an autism friendly performance of The Lion King.
There’s a pretty amazing nonprofit company called Theatre Development Fund, TDF for short. If you’ve seen the giant TKTS booth in Times Square, that’s part of TDF. But their company has many amazing programs that aim to ensure that professional theatre is accessible to all — and that “all” includes Nate! Their Autism Theatre Initiative makes Broadway shows accessible to individuals on the autism spectrum.
Here’s what they do:
1) TDF provides significantly subsidized tickets to a special performance of The Lion King–prices range from $40 – $80. Lord knows that autism families are already paying tons of money for non-insurance covered therapies and such so the reduced price is a welcome break.
2) They provide incredibly in-depth social stories about the experience of going to the theatre. (It’s the hyperlink called “Social Narrative” on this page.) When you really think about it, there’s a lot of steps. You have to get your tickets, press through a crowd, give your tickets to an usher, be seated, receive a playbill, stay seated, etc. (My favorite line in the social story is “The numbers on our tickets tell us where we have to sit. It is not a choice.” That’s a really key point.) They also provide social stories about loud noises, needing a break, and how to navigate through crowds.
3) They provide us with a character guide so that attendees can become familiar with what the performers look like. Since many kids likely have seen the film, this guide shows pictures of the the cartoon movie character and the Broadway actor playing the same role.
4) All attendees get a busy toy. Our kids can stay focused by playing with something; instead of having to remember one more thing, TDF gives it to us!
5) And — here’s where they’ve thought of everything — after the theatre, they’ve partnered with area restaurants, which will be staffed with trained TDF volunteers. The restaurants will have adjusted lights and lowered sound systems to be more autism-friendly.
During the show, individuals with autism can bring in their own fidgets or weighted blankets (or Hobbes) to help sit for a long period of time; their own snacks, which match their dietary or food texture needs; and take a break during the performance in a quiet area or activity area. TDF staff have shared that some attendees make it through the first fifteen minutes, some through the first act, some through the whole show. At this special show, the actors get that a patron leaving isn’t commentary on their performance….
Tickets for this special autism-friendly performance just went on sale; it sells out every year. The show is on Sunday, September 28, 2014 at 1:00PM — and you can only buy the tickets through Theatre Development Fund (e.g. you can’t go to the Box Office to get them). Nate, Chad, Hobbes, and I will be there and we cannot wait to report back on what Nate’s first Broadway show is like!
Full disclosure: This isn’t a sponsored post but Nate’s Auntie Anne works for TDF and she’s bringing us as her guests to the show. So while TDF isn’t paying us or giving us anything, Auntie Anne is. Just thought you should know.