Hartford Stage will host a first-ever sensory-friendly performance of its annual holiday classic, A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story of Christmas on Tuesday, December 9. This will be the first time that Hartford Stage has offered this type of performance for the community – and apparently the first such effort in Connecticut. A “sensory-friendly” performance is a theatre production that is modified to accommodate individuals with sensory-input disorders, such as people on the autism spectrum, those with anxiety, and people with a range of cognitive abilities.
At the Tuesday night performance, “house rules” will be relaxed – people may need to get up, move around, and leave the theatre in the midst of the performance. There is no expectation that the audience will be completely quiet during the performance. In addition, a Quiet Room will be available with sensory-friendly toys for anyone who needs a break from the performance.
"Sensory-friendly performances are designed to create a performing arts experience that is welcoming to all families of children with autism or other disabilities which create sensory sensitivities," says Jennifer Roberts, director of education for the theater. The Hartford Stage website adds, “Our goal is to create an environment where people with autism or sensory needs, along with their families, can enjoy coming to the theatre together and will feel comfortable, supported and free to be themselves.”
Officials point out that while the script of A Christmas Carol will not change, some of the technical elements will be softened to accommodate sensitive ears and eyes. For example, haze will be reduced and strobe lights will be removed from the production. Lights in the audience will be remain lit at a dim level during the entire show to allow safe movement in and out of the theatre.
Abrupt and loud sound effects will be lowered, and there will be a signal to the audience to warn them that a potentially jarring moment is about to happen, so that caregivers can be ready to help those with sensory sensitivities.
The hope is to achieve “a judgment-free, fun experience for the entire family.” About 150 people, students and their families, are expected to attend the performance.
Hartford Stage has prepared a plot synopsis and social story to help prepare audience members for the experience. They have encouraged families and caretakers to read the synopsis of A Christmas Carol and use the social story to prepare for the whole theatrical experience, from beginning to end.
The production, designed for age 9 and up, is about two hours long with a 15-minute intermission. Theatre Development Fund’s Autism Theatre Initiative served as an advisor for the performance.
[view NBC Connecticut news story on the sensory-friendly performance]