In an effort to include children who have difficulties with social interaction and communication, two central Kentucky theaters have begun having showings geared toward children with autism.
Before a production was ready at the Lexington Children’s Theatre, staffers had to do research and consult with other theaters on how to do create this type of performance, said Jeremy Kisling, the theater’s education director.
LCT offered its first sensitive-friendly performance on Dec. 17. The show was “The Ugly Duckling” based on the Hans Christian Andersen story.
“There’s a lot of different little things that you do to kind of make sure that it is inclusive,” he said.
For example, the house lights were on during the performance as opposed to being off. Whenever there was a loud sound that was coming up in the play, such as a firework, a glow stick was held up to warn members of the audience about it. Children can also move around during the performance and talk to the performers during the play.
The reason those kinds of changes are important is because many children with autism have trouble relating to others. They tend to avoid eye contact and can over-react to sounds. About one in 68 children have been identified with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At the Woodford Theatre in Versailles, its Young Artists Class performed a sensory-friendly production of “A Year with Frog and Toad KIDS,” during the holiday season this year.
The play, adapted from the three-time-Tony-nominated Broadway hit, tells the story of a friendship that endures throughout the seasons.
Jordan Guffey, box office and marketing manager, said the theatre began offering performances like these last year in an effort to be inclusive.
The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts held a summit about sensory-friendly theater two years ago and it sparked a fire in some local theatrical groups.
“We’ve noticed a need for sensory-friendly productions in Woodford County,” Guffey said. The changes the theater made were similar to those of LCT but they also offered earplugs for audience members, she said.
“Everyone’s sensibilities are different,” she said. “It’s not one size fits all.”
The community has been receptive to the sensory-friendly productions, Guffey said, and although the theater group was not not planning another similar production, because of community response, it might.
Nate Krohmer, 13, performed in “A Year with Frog and Toad Kids.” He said he was a bit nervous about being in his first sensory-friendly performance, but it turned out to be no different.
“It was actually just like any other show,” he said.
Sara Spragens, president of Autism Society of the Bluegrass, said offering the sensory-friendly productions is wonderful.
“It makes families who have individuals with autism feel welcome whereas they often do not in public situations,” she said. “It allows families to participate in activities that other families take for granted.”
The Lexington Children’s Theatre will be performing a sensory-friendly performance of “Why Mosquitoes Buzz,” a play written by Kisling, at 4:30 p.m. April 29.