We take our mission to make the arts accessible very seriously – it is the lifeblood of our work and the passion behind everything we do here – so one of the things that matters more than anything to the Ren team is creating an exceptional patron experience, for all of our patrons.
Of course, we know that going to the theatre is more comfortable for some than others. Families or persons with autism or other disabilities that create sensory sensitivities, in particular, may find the prospect of attending a performance at the Renaissance to be somewhat daunting.
Let us assure you: we are committed to creating an experience that will thrill and delight every single member of our diverse audience. So, we are expanding our ability to offer sensory-friendly performances, which began with a sensory-friendly performance of Shrek the Musical in our 2016-2017 season.
For those who aren’t familiar with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it is a complex developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others (source: Autism Society of America, 2013). This can easily create feelings of anxiety and stress for a person with autism when attending a performance in a space that may be crowded, loud, and have sudden or unexpected happenings.
Luckily, there is a lot that we can do to make the performance experience a pleasant and welcoming one for those patrons with sensory sensitivities. Here are a few of the accommodations that you can expect when you come to the Ren for a sensory-friendly performance:
- Lower sound and light levels, especially during louder or more dramatic events
- The freedom for patrons to leave their seats or talk during the performance
- Designated quiet areas
- Places to move or stand while still enjoying the performance
- Lower crowd sizes
- Pre-show visits and videos to acclimate to the theatre environment
- A staff and volunteer team that is trained to be inviting and accommodating
Let’s pause to look at that last bullet point: our staff and volunteer team is now trained to not only design and create sensory-friendly programming, but to be the welcoming faces who are here to help you enjoy these meaningful events. Thanks to an anonymous donor, we’ve had the good fortune to work with consultant Dr. Ryan Hourigan, Director of the School of Music at Ball State University and a parent of two teenage boys with autism.
Dr. Hourigan is a nationally-recognized author and advocate for the inclusion of students with disabilities in the arts, and he first came to us through our Kennedy Center Partners in Education program as a teaching artist on their national roster (and he also co-founded the incredible Prism Project at BSU, which has now grown to multiple locations across the country). Since his first workshop for our local teachers in the 2014-2015 season, he’s offered additional professional development for both teachers and the Ren team. Most recently, he visited in February for training and to help us confirm logistics for our sensory-friendly performances
While we are thrilled to be able to work with Dr. Hourigan (we’ll admit it – our staff is a bunch of arts nerds who love learning new things), we are even more excited for our patrons to be able to experience the performing arts in a way that may be more comfortable for them. We feel that there has been a segment of our audience that we haven’t been serving well, and we want to correct that, so you can expect to see more sensory-friendly programming on the schedule in the coming seasons. Why? Because above all else, the arts are good for us, and they are inclusive.
For more information on our sensory-friendly performance offerings, please contact the Renaissance Box Office directly at (419) 522-2726.