TDF’s Autism Theater Initiative will present autism-friendly performances of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins on Sunday, April 29, at 1pm, at the New Amsterdam Theatre (214 West 42nd, Street, NYC) and Disney’s The Lion King on Sunday, September 30, at 1pm, at the Minskoff Theatre (1515 Broadway, NYC). These performances illustrate TDF’s commitment to continuing to present autism-friendly performances in New York City. TDF is also available to consult with other theatre organizations across the United States who would like to present their own autism-friendly performances.
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 (which is 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. That sold-out performance was successful in opening up the world of live theatre to this underserved community. These autism-friendly performances are presented with the cooperation of Disney Theatrical Productions. NBC Nightly News did a feature on that performance which illustrates the impact on the children and their families. Here is a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gpDzF6Xpfs.
For these performances of Mary Poppins and The Lion King, TDF has purchased every seat in the theatre for sale at discount prices to families whose members include individuals on the autism spectrum. Tickets to these special performances are sold only through the TDF website at www.tdf.org/autism. The Mary Poppins performance is nearly sold out. Tickets to the September 30 performance of The Lion King will go on sale in late spring. To be notified when this performances goes on sale, as well as any future autism-friendly performances, please sign up at www.tdf.org/autism.
“The pilot autism-friendly performance of The Lion King was successful beyond our greatest expectations,” said Victoria Bailey, TDF’s executive director. “It was tremendously emotional watching families experience live theatre together for the first time in an environment that was safe and supportive. Special thanks to Thomas Schumacher and everyone at Disney Theatrical Productions for their professionalism and dedication to expanding audiences and allowing us to continue to present these special performances.”
“The feedback from the autism community has been extraordinary,” said Lisa Carling, TDF’s director of accessibility programs (TAP). “Our goal with Autism Theatre Initiative is to be as inclusive as possible, welcoming families with children and adults on the autism spectrum, including Asperger’s syndrome, to fill the entire theatre and be assured that everyone involved with the production—from the cast, production crew and theatre staff—is united in making the show an unforgettable experience for all.”
“I can think of few other events in Disney Theatrical Productions’ history that have moved and gratified us and The Lion King family more than the autism-friendly performance we did with TDF at the Minskoff last fall,” said Thomas Schumacher, Producer and President Disney Theatrical Productions. “We are honored to be able to collaborate on these upcoming performances and to be part of something that opens up the epic experience of theatre to a whole new audience.”
“Nothing could be better than to have an autism-friendly theatre that is a totally safe place for a family to be with their child with autism,” said Mark Roithmayr, President of Autism Speaks.
In order to be “autism-friendly,” the shows are being 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 quiet 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 is working with an advisory panel of experts in the field of autism. The panel has provided TDF with expertise and counsel throughout the development and implementation of this program.
Quotes from families who attended the October 2, 2011 autism-friendly performance of The Lion King:
“Watching my son's eyes fill with wonderment while his smile broadened moved his mother and me to tears. The memory that the TDF and all the wonderful volunteers helped to create for my family will never be forgotten, and I am eternally grateful.” – Jordan K.
“One of the most outstanding days in our family’s life. Thank you and thanks to all the volunteers and staff at the theater. What a day!” – Mindy R.
“We have three beautiful daughters, one who is autistic. Our other two daughters have been to several shows, but Melissa, our daughter with autism has never been able to attend. Today was different. Because of your efforts, we were able to watch our daughter sit through the entire performance, enjoying every minute. When the show was over she sat waiting for more! My husband and I both cried tears of enjoyment watching our beautiful child sit like a young lady, taking in every minute of this show. Thanks for being the first to do something so admirable. We will never forget this experience.” – Marcy and Michael K.
“The thought, preparation and support provided to the audience members was truly outstanding. There wasn’t anything it seems that was not thought of or prepared for, and I know it led to a truly wonderful experience for my son who obviously enjoyed himself immensely.” – Joanne B.
“We can't thank you enough for the wonderful gift you gave us on Sunday. It took 18 long years, but our son finally got to see his first Broadway show. It was wonderful experience, and we will treasure this memory for a lifetime.” - Suzanne and Jeff S.
“Words cannot describe my heartfelt appreciation to all who made this production possible. This phenomenal experience is a memory that neither my son nor I will ever forget!” - Nicole K.
ABOUT TDF ACCESSIBILITY PROGRAMS (TAP)
TDF Accessibility Programs (TAP) was established in 1979 to provide access to the performing arts for people with physical disabilities. TAP serves theatregoers with mild to profound hearing loss with regularly scheduled open captioned and American Sign Language interpreted performances of Broadway and Off Broadway shows; theatregoers who are partially sighted or blind with special audio described performances; people who for medical reasons cannot climb stairs; and, people who require aisle seating or use wheelchairs.
Through TAP, TDF offers discount orchestra tickets that are chosen with the customer’s specific seating needs in mind. TAP made Broadway history when it presented the first sign interpreted performance of a Broadway show with The Elephant Man in 1980. TAP again made Broadway history in 1997 with the first open captioned performance of a Broadway show, Barrymore, thus opening up theatre to an entire population of deaf and hard of hearing individuals who are unable to utilize American Sign Language or receive only partial help from assistive listening devices. This is the third season that TAP has added audio described performances to its services for theatregoers who are blind or have low vision. TAP's Access for Young Audiences Program make theatre accessible to students with mild to severe hearing loss with simultaneously open captioned and sign language interpreted performances, as well as audio described performances for students who are blind or have low vision. For more information on TAP’s services, go to www.tdf.org/tap.
ABOUT THEATRE DEVELOPMENT FUND (TDF)
TDF, which recently received a 2011 Mayor’s Award for Arts and Culture, is 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. It is dedicated to developing diverse audiences for live theatre and dance and strengthening the performing arts community in New York City. Created in 1968, 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.
ABOUT MARY POPPINS WORLDWIDE
Mary Poppins received its worldwide premiere at the Prince Edward Theatre in the West End in December 2004. Following its successful three-year London run, the production launched an acclaimed U.K. tour. The Broadway production of Mary Poppins officially opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on November 16, 2006, recouping its initial Broadway investment within 52 weeks of its premiere in 2006. Mary Poppins is the only show from the 2006-2007 theatrical season still running. The Mary Poppins North American tour has also garnered continuous critical praise and achieved box office success since its launch in Chicago in March 2009, playing 35 cities and grossing $124 million to date. With six productions produced on three continents, Mary Poppins is one of the biggest stage musical successes to emerge from London or New York in recent years. Worldwide to date, the show has grossed over $644 million and welcomed 9.3 million guests. The musical is the winner of 44 major theatre awards around the globe, including Tony®, Olivier, Helpmann and Evening Standard awards. In addition to Broadway and the North American tour, Mary Poppins can also be seen in Brisbane, Australia. Productions of Mary Poppins have also been mounted in Finland, Netherlands, Denmark and the Czech Republic.
ABOUT THE LION KING
In its 15th year, The Lion King remains ascendant, continuing to reign as a cultural phenomenon and one of the most popular stage musicals in the world. Since its Broadway premiere on November 13, 1997, 19 productions around the globe have been seen by more than 63 million people, grossed over $4.7 billion and cumulatively have run a staggering 89 years. Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions (under the direction of Thomas Schumacher), The Lion King is the seventh longest-running musical in Broadway history and one of only six productions in theatre history to play for ten years or more both on Broadway and in the West End. Translated into seven different languages (Japanese, German, Korean, French, Dutch, Mandarin, Spanish), the show has been performed in 15 different countries on five continents. The Lion King can currently be seen on Broadway, on stages across North America, and in Tokyo, London’s West End, Hamburg, Madrid and Sapporo.
TDF wishes to acknowledge the following donors for their generous support of
the Autism Theatre Initiative:
Autism Friendly Spaces, LLC,
The Joseph LeRoy and Ann C. Warner Fund, Inc.