Last fall, Theatre Development Fund (TDF), the not-for-profit performing arts service organization whose mission includes making theatre accessible for all audiences, piloted the new program, Autism Theatre Initiative, as part of TDF’s Accessibility Programs (TAP), to make theatre accessible to children and adults on the autism spectrum, and their families. They presented the first-ever autism-friendly performance of a Broadway show at Disney’s landmark The Lion King on October 2, 2011 and followed that up with an autism-friendly performance of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins on April 29, 2012. These sold-out performances were successful in opening up the world of live theatre to an underserved community. The performances were presented with the cooperation of Disney Theatrical Productions.
For autism-friendly performances, TDF purchases every seat in the theatre for sale to families whose members include individuals on the autism spectrum. The first autism-friendly performance of Disney’s The Lion King took several weeks to sell out because an autism-friendly performance had never been attempted on Broadway and TDF worked directly with autism organizations and schools with autism programs to target the appropriate audience. With that performance’s success, the subsequent autism-friendly performance of Mary Poppins sold out in three days. Tickets for the second The Lion King performance, which is scheduled for September 30 at 1pm, went on sale at midnight on Monday, June 25 and were sold out by 8pm Monday evening.
“We’re gratified to have tapped into this community of families who are hungry for access to the performing arts, which is evident in the speed in which the upcoming performance sold out,” said Lisa Carling, TDF’s Director of Accessibility Programs. “Not only does an autism-friendly performance introduce the world of theatre to the person on the autism spectrum, but it allows a family to experience it together in a supportive environment with no judgments. The word seems to be spreading as we are now consulting with organizations around the country on how to present autism-friendly performances. We are consulting with other organizations around the country who are interested in presenting their own autism-friendly performances including Houston’s The Hobby Center, which will be presenting their first autism-friendly performance on July 28 of The Lion King.”
In order to be “autism-friendly,” the shows are performed in a friendly, supportive environment for an audience of families and friends with children or adults who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensitivity issues. Slight adjustments to the productions include reduction of any jarring sounds or strobe lights focused into the audience. In the theatre lobby area there are designated calming and activity areas, staffed with autism experts, if anyone needs to leave their seats during the performance.
To ensure that TDF will meet the needs of this audience, TDF works with an advisory panel of experts in the field of autism. The panel provides TDF with expertise and counsel throughout the development and implementation of this program.
For more information about TDF's Autism Theatre Initiative and to sign up to hear about upcoming autism-friendly performances, go to: www.tdf.org/autism.
Theatre Development Fund was created in the conviction that the live theatrical arts afford a unique expression of the human condition that must be sustained and nurtured. It is dedicated to developing diverse audiences for live theatre and dance and strengthening the performing arts community in New York City. Since being founded in 1968, it has become the largest nonprofit performing arts service organization in the United States, returning over $130 million to hundreds of productions annually through a variety of programs. TDF’s programs have provided over 80 million people with access to performances at affordable prices. Best known for its TKTS Discount Booths, TDF’s membership, outreach, access and education programs — as well as its Costume Collection — help to make the unique experience of theatre available to everyone. TDF recently received a 2011 Mayor’s Award for Arts and Culture and a 2012 Tony Honor for Excellence for its Open Doors Program. For more information about TDF, go to: www.tdf.org.
Major support for the Autism Theatre Initiative has been provided by:
Helene Berger Foundation; The FAR Fund; The Joseph LeRoy and Anne C. Warner Fund, Inc.
Additional Support provided by:
Katherine Chia; The Adolph and Ruth Schnurmacher Foundation; Winter Family Fund
In-kind service provided by:
Autism Friendly Spaces, LLC; Autismshop.com; SensaCalm