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TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative presents second autism-friendly performance of Disney’s "The Lion King" on Sunday, September 30 at 1pm

Date: Sep 14, 2012
Press Release


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Theatre Development Fund (TDF), the not-for-profit performing arts service organization whose mission includes making theatre accessible for all audiences, will present their second autism-friendly performance of The Lion King on Sunday, September 30 at 1pm at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre.

TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative, which is part of TDF’s Accessibility Programs (TAP), was launched in 2011 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 sensory-friendly performances were successful in opening up the world of live theatre to an underserved community. All three performances are presented with the cooperation of Disney Theatrical Productions.

“The response from this community has been nothing less than overwhelming. Judging by the calls, emails and letters we have received from the families combined with the speed at which the shows sell out, it is clear that they are thrilled to have new access to the performing arts,” 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. I’m thrilled to report that the Hobby Center’s performance of The Lion King in Houston was a rousing success and we’re currently working with The Old Globe in San Diego on their first autism-friendly performance for their production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas on December 15. ”
“Our first two experiences partnering with TDF on these autism-friendly performances were extraordinarily moving; not only for the audiences but for our casts and companies as well,” said Thomas Schumacher, Producer and President Disney Theatrical Productions.  “We’re so proud to continue introducing new audiences to the thrill of musical theatre and grateful to TDF for creating the Autism Theatre Initiative and to our creative staffs whose hard work helps make it all possible.”

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. For this performance, TDF worked directly with autism organizations and schools with autism programs to target the appropriate audience and the performance sold out. 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, sold out in less than 14 hours. This clearly underscores the need for access to the theatre for this underserved community.

TDF continues to consult with other theatres across the country including Houston’s Hobby Center and San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, helping them present their first autism-friendly.

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 quiet and activity areas, staffed with autism experts, if anyone needs to leave their seats during the performance. To get a clearer idea of what an autism-friendly performance is, here is a link to a feature on the recent Mary Poppins performance from TDF Stages:

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 on Autism Theatre Initiative or to sign up to hear about upcoming autism-friendly performances, go to:

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.  TAP launched the Autism Theatre Initiative in 2011 which presents sensory-friendly performances for families with children on the autism spectrum. For more information on TAP’s services, go to

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 (now in their 40th year of service), 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, 2012 Tony Honor for Excellence for its Open Doors Program. For more information about TDF, go to:

In its 15th year, The Lion King remains ascendant, recently becoming the highest-grossing Broadway show in history.  Since its Broadway premiere on November 13, 1997, 19 productions around the globe have been seen by more than 65 million people, grossed over $4.8 billion and, cumulatively, run a staggering 91 years.  Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions (under the direction of Thomas Schumacher), The Lion King is only the second show in history to generate five productions running 10 or more years.  Translated into seven different languages (Japanese, German, Korean, French, Dutch, Mandarin, Spanish), the show has been performed in 15 different countries on five continents.  Continuing to reign as one of the most popular stage musicals in the world, The Lion King can currently be seen on Broadway, on stages across North America, on tour in Japan, and in Tokyo, London’s West End, Hamburg and Madrid.  A UK tour launches in Bristol, England later this month. For more information worldwide, visit

Major support for this performance of TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative
has been provided by:
Helene Berger Foundation; The Far Fund; and The Joseph LeRoy
and Anne C. Warner Fund, Inc.
Additional financial support has been provided by:
Katherine Chia; The Adolph and Ruth Schnurmacher Foundation;
and The Winter Family Fund
In-kind services provided by:
Autism Friendly Spaces, LLC; and SensaCalm