On Sunday September 28 at 1pm, Theatre Development Fund’s (TDF) Autism Theatre Initiative (ATI)will present the fourth autism-friendly performance of Disney’s landmark musical The Lion King (which just celebrated its 7,000th performance on Broadway). Tickets which were sold through ATI on TDF’s website sold out in only three days, thus underscoring the popularity of the show with families with children on the autism spectrum, as well as the need for access for this underserved community.
This is the fourth season that TDF, (the not-for-profit performing arts service organization whose mission includes making theatre accessible for all audiences), has presented autism-friendly performances through the Autism Theatre Initiative, which is part of TDF’s Accessibility Programs (TAP). ATI’s mission is 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 The Lion King on October 2, 2011. Since then, ATI has presented autism-friendly performances of: Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins, ELF, SPIDER-MAN Turn Off the Dark, and most recently, Wicked. Last spring, ATI served a younger demographic of children on the spectrum with the first-ever autism-friendly performance of Disney Junior Live on Tour: Pirate and Princess Adventure at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. These sold-out performances were successful in opening up the world of live theatre to this community, which until now had found it difficult to impossible to attend live theatre.
“From the feedback we’ve received of the past seasons, this community is thrilled to finally have access to the performing arts,” said Lisa Carling, TDF’s Director of Accessibility Programs. “Not only do autism-friendly performances 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. The word is spreading as we are currently consulting with organizations from coast to coast on how to present autism-friendly performances. We thank Disney Theatricals for allowing us to present that first performance in 2011 and continuing to support the program so enthusiastically.”
For autism-friendly performances, TDF purchases every seat in the theatre for sale at discount prices to families whose members include individuals on the autism spectrum. 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 sensory sensitive issues. Slight adjustments to the productions include reduction of any jarring sounds or lights, and eliminating any strobe lights focused into the audience. In the theatre lobby area there are designated quiet and activity areas, staffed with trained autism professionals, 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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrb-opIcMWw.
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: www.tdf.org/autism.
ABOUT THE LION KING
In its 17th year, The Lion King remains ascendant; it is the highest-grossing Broadway show in New York history and one of the most popular stage musicals in the world. Since its Broadway premiere on November 13, 1997, 22 global productions have been seen by more than 75 million people and, cumulatively, run a staggering 112 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 worldwide running 10 or more years. Translated into seven different languages (Japanese, German, Korean, French, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese), productions of The Lion King can currently be seen on Broadway, London’s West End, Hamburg, Tokyo, Madrid, Sao Paulo, Sydney, Australia and on tour across North America, the U.K., and Japan. The Australian production marks the tenth concurrent worldwide production of The Lion King, the highest number of productions running at any one time in the show’s history. To date, The Lion King has played 19 countries on every continent except Antarctica.
Among the most successful titles in entertainment history, The Lion King’s more than $6 billion worldwide box office to date, exceeds that of any film or entertainment title in history.
The Lion King won six 1998 Tony Awards®: Best Musical, Best Scenic Design (Richard Hudson), Best Costume Design (Julie Taymor), Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder), Best Choreography (Garth Fagan) and Best Direction of a Musical. The Lion King has also earned more than 70 major arts awards including the 1998 NY Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, the 1999 Grammy® for Best Musical Show Album, the 1999 Evening Standard Award for Theatrical Event of the Year and the 1999 Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Choreography and Best Costume Design.
The show’s director, costume designer and mask co-designer Julie Taymor continues to play an integral part in the show’s ongoing success. The first woman to win a Tony Award for Direction of a Musical, Taymor has in recent years supervised new productions of the show around the world.
The Broadway score features Elton John and Tim Rice’s music from The Lion King animated film along with three new songs by John and Rice; additional musical material by South African Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer; and music from "Rhythm of the Pride Lands," an album inspired by the original music in the film, written by Lebo M, Mark Mancina and Hans Zimmer. The resulting sound of The Lion King is a fusion of Western popular music and the distinctive sounds and rhythms of Africa, ranging from the Academy Award®-winning song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” to the haunting ballad “Shadowland.”
The book has been adapted by Roger Allers, who co-directed The Lion King animated feature, and Irene Mecchi, who co-wrote the film’s screenplay. Other members of the creative team include: Michael Curry, who designed the masks and puppets with Taymor, Steve Canyon Kennedy (sound design), Michael Ward (hair and makeup design), John Stefaniuk (associate director), Marey Griffith (associate choreographer), Clement Ishmael (music supervisor) and Doc Zorthian (production supervisor). Anne Quart serves as associate producer.
For more information worldwide, visit LionKing.com.
ABOUT THEATRE DEVELOPMENT FUND
Since 1968, TDF’s programs have provided over 86 million people with access to performances at affordable prices and have returned over $2.4 billion to thousands of productions. Best known for its TKTS Discount Booths, TDF’s membership, outreach, access (including the Autism Theatre Initiative) and education programs — as well as its Costume Collection — have introduced thousands of people to the theatre and helped make the unique experience of theatre available to everyone, including students and people with disabilities. Recent TDF honors include a 2011 Mayor’s Award for Arts and Culture, a 2012 Tony Honor for Excellence for its Open Doors Arts Education Program, a 2012 New York Innovative Theatre Award for its support of the off-Off Broadway community and a 2013 Lucille Lortel honor for “Outstanding Body of Work” in support of the Off Broadway community. For more info, visit tdf.org.
Major support for the Autism Theatre Initiative has been provided by:
Bank of America Charitable Gift Fund; Build-A-Bear Workshop Foundation; The Bulova Stetson Fund; The FAR Fund; Flom Family Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; Night of Too Many Stars (NY Collaborates for Autism); Ronald McDonald House Charities; The Adolph and Ruth Schnurmacher Fdn; Seventh District Foundation; Stavros Niarchos Foundation; The Joseph LeRoy and Ann C. Warner Fund
In-kind service provided by:
Autism Friendly Spaces, LLC; Autismshop.com; SensaCalm