The excitement of the theater is often a welcome escape from the worries of the world, transporting audiences to distant lands and ancient times through the power of immersive imagination. While many productions seek to do so through flashy visuals and booming audio, it’s precisely the opposite experience that the creators of the Lincoln Center’s forthcoming Big Umbrella Festival wish to offer their intended audiences; those with autism.
Debuting in April 2018, the festival organizers intend to provide a safe space for entertainment, education, and inspiration, extracting the less inviting aspects of theater that might otherwise distract or overwhelm those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), instead favoring an experience that nurtures and soothes by reducing the presence of jarring sounds and frantic lighting. Instead, they are incorporating areas designated for quiet and activity in the lobby areas, staffed with autism specialists for those who may need to leave their seats during a performance.
In a statement, Russell Granet, executive vice president of Lincoln Center Education, said that those organizing the festival “believe the arts can be transformational, and that every child should have access to a quality arts education.”
The performances at the festival will include the return of the Trusty Sidekick Theater Company’s production of “Up and Away,” which enjoyed the success of s sold-out run during the Lincoln Center’s 2015 season. Other productions include “Light Show,” put on by the Britain-based theater group Oily Cart, and an underwater story from Australia’s Sensorium Theater called “Oddysea.” The festival will also put on a symposium meant to educate companies on how they might better provide for and serve people with autism.
Lincoln Center is just one of several organizations working to bring a suitable theatrical experience to persons with autism, including the Theater Development Fund’s Autism Theatre Initiative, also located in New York City.
Even with the capacity for sensory sensitivity, the theater is a universal human experience that should be enjoyed by everyone. By crafting productions specifically meant for audiences on the spectrum, these children will be able to enjoy all the wonders of theater in safe and compassionate environments, and that is a tremendously beautiful thing.
More information on the Lincoln Center can be found here.
For more information on the TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative, visit their site here.
This story originally appeared in the New York Times.