Anne Fleming, executive board member of Partners, Playhouse Square’s official young professionals group, and tri-chair of the annual Jump Back Ball Fundraiser, was able to volunteer at last summer's Sensory-Friendly performance of the The Lion King. Here she tells us about her experience:
When I attend a show in the KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square, I look forward to seeing the lights of the marquees on Euclid Avenue and the grand ceilings of the lobby, energizing the excitement of the crowd. I look forward to hearing show stopping musical numbers and watching special effects that bring the energy of the stage right to my seat. For children and adults with disabilities, such as Autism, these moments that add to my theater experience can cause anxiety and may make an outing to the theater seem like a daunting task for families and caregivers.
As a pediatric speech therapist, I have the opportunity to work with children every day who interact and communicate with their environment in different ways. While I may clap quietly in my seat during a performance, there are several different ways that this excitement could be expressed by a child or adult with a disability. This may include shrieking with joy, jumping up and down, rocking, or clapping loudly. These individuals simply have a different way of expressing themselves, a way that is not less or incorrect, but a way that is unique to each individual person. Unfortunately, these reactions and expressions may make it difficult for children and adults with disabilities to participate in community events with their families, often out of fear that the differences in communication will not be accepted by those around them.
This past August, Playhouse Square offered a Sensory-Friendly Performance of The Lion King at the KeyBank State Theatre. I was able to volunteer at this performance through Playhouse Square’s young professionals group, Partners. I currently sit on the executive board for Partners and am tri-chair of the annual Jump Back Ball Fundraiser. This Sensory-Friendly Performance was even more meaningful to me because the money raised by Jump Back Ball directly supports this and other community engagement initiatives.
Jump Back Ball 2017
The day of the show arrived and I eagerly headed to the theater to participate in a training for all volunteers, led by the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities. I spoke with several of my fellow volunteers, all of which were eager to participate in this exciting day. Equipped with a bag of fidget toys and noise cancelling headphones, I headed to my assigned location in the KeyBank State Theatre ticket lobby. Soon enough, families began to enter the lobby. I spoke with one mother, accompanied by two children, dressed in their best formal wear. She expressed her excitement to me about being in the theater, telling me that this was her family’s first time being at Playhouse Square. This “first-timer” experience was shared by several other families that I spoke to that day.
A family enjoying the sensory-friendly performance of The Lion King
My fellow volunteers and I worked to pass out fidget toys to help calm nerves, offer noise cancelling headphones to minimize the noise of the lobby, and direct families to designated quiet spaces, as needed. As I handed out the fidget toys, I was met with surprise from families that these were being offered free of charge. Families were assured that they could come and go from the theater as needed, with the opportunity to watch the show on a large TV in the theater lobby if the experience inside was overwhelming. The theater lights were dimmed, not completely dark, and the sound and special effects were turned down in an effort to reduce the amount of sensory input for all attendees.
Throughout the day, I was met with gratitude and “thank you” from dozens of families. I volunteered at this show because I truly believe that all people deserve to experience the wonder of live theater, regardless of abilities. As I look back on this experience, I want to offer my own thank you to everyone that made this day possible. Thank you to the donors who continue to support the Community Engagement and Education efforts of Playhouse Square and make these programs possible, and most importantly, thank you to the families who spent the afternoon enjoying The Lion King performance with us. I hope to see you all back at the theater soon!
Want to get involved? Learn more about Partners or Purchase Jump Back Ball tickets!