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Guest Post: Autism West Midlands on Relaxed Performances

The Gruffalo comes to Town Hall for two weeks this summer, and as part of the run we are very pleased to be staging our second Relaxed Performance. Building on the success of our relaxed performance of What the Ladybird Heard January, teams at THSH are working closely with Autism West Midlands to make sure the performance is as welcoming as possible for individuals with autism, learning disabilities and other sensory and communication disorders, and their families.

In this guest blog post, Autism West Midlands’ Julia Begley talks about the importance of relaxed performances for people with autism, and how AWM are helping with the development of THSH’s offering…

Here at Autism West Midlands we work with a huge variety of people. Autism is a broad spectrum of stories and experiences, across all ages, genders and backgrounds. It is fundamental to our practices that we promote and encourage all kinds of social inclusion for the people we support.

Many people with autism struggle with social interaction and understanding and communication, which can make big events like a trip to the theatre quite daunting. Most people with autism also experience sensory difficulties meaning that they may feel overwhelmed by sensory information, such as loud sounds or bright lights. This means that a performance specially tailored to suit their needs is vital to introducing people with autism to the arts.

A relaxed performance is one in which certain changes and allowances are made to support the needs of people with disabilities. It is common to ensure that additional wheelchair spaces are made available and additional trained staff are present to make sure support can be offered where needed. Audience members can make noise and are allowed to move around and exit the auditorium if and when they want to. There is usually a chill out room where people can go if they begin to feel overwhelmed.

These performances also avoid the use of strobe lighting, which can be dangerous for those prone to seizures and uncomfortable for those with light sensitivities. The lighting and sound is reduced to help people with sensory difficulties, and familiarisation events help audience members to prepare for the show before the big day. Other preparation tools include visual guides, to the venue and the show’s plot, sent out with tickets and often there is a meet and greet with the cast, or character introductions before the show.

Relaxed performances and disability-friendly events have become more popular in recent times and this is definitely a positive step. However, it is important to us that these events take seriously the needs of disabled people and do not use the relaxed format as a gimmick or just to make money. In working with THSH, we have seen their sincere desire to create a performance that will provide an unforgettable experience for people with autism and their families.

Autism West Midlands will also be providing training for the staff of THSH ahead of their Relaxed Performance of The Gruffalo. This will help the staff team to learn about autism – what it is and how it affects people – and how to work with people with autism. Hopefully we will give those staff the tools to develop greater understanding of autism and the difficulties faced by some people with disabilities, particularly when visiting public events and venues. But equally, we will impress upon them the huge advantages to be found from promoting inclusion and working with people with disabilities.

In the future, we hope that relaxed performances will become an industry standard for people for whom a standard theatre visit is not possible. Equally importantly though, we would like relaxed performances to offer a gateway for families and adults with disabilities, allowing them to build trust with venues and learn the skills needed to attend these events. Ideally this will mean that in the future, more people will feel included and accepted at standard shows as well as the relaxed performances.

The Relaxed Performance of The Gruffalo takes place at 3pm on Sunday 24 August 2014. More information on the performance, including a video guide to Town Hall and a document containing FAQs, can be found here. Tickets can be booked online, over the phone on 0121 345 0493 or in person at either Town Hall or Symphony Hall Box Offices.

Familiarisation Visit

We’re opening Town Hall on Monday 18 August between 2-6pm for customers to take part in a familiarisation visit prior to the Relaxed Performance on the 24 August. Entry is free.

If there are any other resources that may assist you with your experience and visit to Town Hall, please feel free to ask our Customer Service team on 0121 345 0493.

A Relaxed Performance of our Christmas show, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, will take place on Sunday 11 January 2015.