Autism-Friendly Performances: Broadway and the West End

Production photo from The Lion King UK, which offers autism-friendly performances. In June 2018, The Lion King UK will present its fifth autism-friendly performance in London's West End.

For people on the autism spectrum, and family members or friends accompanying them, going to the theatre can be a stressful, often frustrating, experience. So it’s great news that performances specially tailored to children and adults on the autism spectrum are being offered by West End and Broadway shows since 2012.

These shows include reduced lighting and sound effects, access to quiet areas, autism specialist volunteers and a relaxed, non-judgmental, environment.

Since the play The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time, which is based on a book of the same name and centers on the world as seen by a teenage boy who is a maths genius but has trouble interpreting everyday life, began offering those performances – called ‘relaxed performances’ – other shows started to follow suit. Shrek The Musical was the first West End show to offer a relaxed performance in 2012, followed by Mamma Mia!, Matilda, Cats, The Gruffalo, The Lion King, and many others.

Below is a brief summary of what is a relaxed performance and how to find tickets for the next relaxed performances of West-End and Broadway shows.

What to expect at an autism-friendly performance:

Before the performance, the theatre often provides a guide on what to expect from the show, The Lion King example can be found here. The theatre also gives parents and caregivers information in advance about any scenes with significant sound, lighting or any other material effects, so no one will be surprised.

When theatregoers arrive, specialist volunteers are available to answer questions and provide assistance. They may also hand out stress balls or noise canceling headphones.

Inside the theatre, the setting is more relaxed than at a regular performance. Patrons can leave the auditorium at any time, and quiet areas in the lobby are staffed by volunteers. House lights are dimmed but not turned down all the way. Strobe lights and sudden black outs are eliminated from the show, and loud noises are kept at a minimum.

Autism-friendly performances sometimes offer Q&A’s with the cast after the performance ends. Most importantly, theatre patrons can expect a relaxed, supportive atmosphere where audience participation is encouraged and every effort is made to cater to an autistic audience. Hopefully we’ll see more autism-friendly shows in the near future – after all, theatre is for everyone, right?

How to find out about any upcoming autism-friendly performances:

In the West End and all of London

Next performances:

Disney’s Aladdin at the Prince Edward Theatre

It will hold its next relaxed performance on Tuesday 29 August, 1.30pm, you can book tickets at their official autism friendly website.

Oliver Twist at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Wednesday 26 July, 10.00am Tickets have now sold-out, but they were FREE. However, should you wish to join a waiting list for returned tickets, please email education@openairtheatre.com with your name, number of tickets you would be interested in, and a contact telephone number.

Adventures In Wonderland at The Vaults Theatre

This multi-sensory show is created and directed specifically for children aged 5-10 and will be running a relaxed performance on the 15th of July 2017 at 10.40am. Tickets are £15.50 to £26.50 (Prices are face value. Fees may apply.)
To book, call The Vaults on 0844 844 2055 (Calls cost 5p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge) or email info@ebplive.co.uk

Twelfth Night at The Globe Theatre

Cross-dressing, hijinks and bittersweet hilarity ensue as Emma Rice directs Shakespeare’s timeless, soulful and irrepressible comedy. The relaxed performance will be on Thu 27 Jul 2017 at 2pm. Tickets are from £5 to £45 (Fees may apply.) To book call The Globe Theatre on 020 7401 9919 or email access@shakespearesglobe.com

What The Ladybird Heard at the Lyric Theatre

A stage adaptation of Julia Donaldson & Lydia Monks’ colourful farmyard adventure. Relaxed performance on Tuesday 8 Aug 2pm, tickets from £9.25 (Fees may apply.)
You can book via Nimax Theatres via phone 033 0333 4815 (Calls cost 7p/min plus your telephone company’s network access charge) or email: access@nimaxtheatres.com

To keep up to date with the next relaxed performances:

There are two main organisations involved in the production of relaxed performances in the UK. They host pages with updated information about relaxed performances:

  • The National Autistic Society – Information about next relaxed performances can be found here
  • The Mousetrap Theatre Projects – A charitable organisation that works towards bringing theatre to wider audiences. As of today, there were no future performances scheduled on their website, however any future shows will be updated here.
  • The Society Of London Theatre (SOLT) also hosts a page with the latest listings here.

 

Broadway:

Cats, July 16, 2017 at 2 PM at the Neil Simon Theatre. Click for tickets.

 

An updated list should be available at the Theatre Development Fund website, under their Autism Theatre Initiative page, here.

Relaxed, autism-friendly performances are definitely becoming more popular, so let’s hope we continue seeing more efforts to make theatre accessible to a wider audience in the near future.

Although, if The Phantom of the Opera ever decides to offer a relaxed performance, my sympathy goes out to whoever is responsible for managing that feat (chandeliers nearly falling on audience members, sudden black outs, extremely loud organ chords, and open flames don’t exactly lend themselves to the autism-friendly model). Nevertheless, all in good time.

In conclusion, if you’ve been wanting to take an autistic friend or family member to the theatre, or if you’re a person on the autism spectrum who’s been wanting to attend the theatre – now is the time. Seize the day! (And the tickets!)