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TDF's Autism Theatre Initiative (ATI) announces upcoming autism-friendly performances on Broadway for the 2013-14 season: Disney's THE LION KING, SPIDER-MAN Turn Off the Dark and WICKED

Date: Jul 11, 2013
Press Release


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TDF’s Autism Theater Initiative (ATI) announces a slate of autism-friendly performances on Broadway for the 2013-14 theatre season. The Initiative, which operates under the auspices of Theatre Development Fund’s Accessibility Programs (TAP), will present autism-friendly performances of three blockbuster Broadway musicals. They are: Disney’s THE LION KING on Sunday, September 29, 2013, at 1pm at the Minskoff Theatre; SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark on Saturday, November 16, 2013, at 2pm at the Foxwoods Theatre; and WICKED on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at 1pm at the Gershwin Theatre.

Tickets for the September 29 performance of Disney’s THE LION KING are currently on sale at  At that webpage you may also sign up to get information on when the other performances will go on sale, as well as receive information about future autism-friendly performances offered through TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative.

These performances illustrate TDF’s commitment to presenting autism-friendly performances in New York City. TDF has also been consulting with other theatre organizations across the United States that would like to present their own autism-friendly performances.
“As TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative moves into its third season, we are finding the excitement for these performances growing,” said Victoria Bailey, TDF’s Executive Director. “As with all of our TDF programs it is important that the widest spectrum of the community have access to tickets. We are gratified that we have received generous funding from The Joseph LeRoy and Ann C. Warner Fund, Inc., among other donors that allows us to distribute several hundred tickets per performance, at no cost, to organizations that help low-income families with children and adults on the spectrum.”

“With the feedback we get from the audiences, specialists working in the autism field, performers and theatre staff, we are constantly learning new ways to fine-tune the program,” said Lisa Carling, TDF’s Director of Accessibility Programs (TAP).  “Our goal with the Autism Theatre Initiative remains to be as inclusive as possible, welcoming families with children and adults on the autism spectrum, including Asperger’s syndrome, as well as other developmental disabilities, to enjoy the theatrical experience and to be assured that everyone involved with the production is united in making the show an unforgettable experience.”

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 specialists and trained volunteers, 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 a performance of Mary Poppins from TDF Stages:

For these performances, TDF purchases 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 TDF’s website.  TDF recommends that interested patrons sign up at to be notified when the future performances go on sale, as well as to be notified about the scheduling of future autism-friendly performances.

Autism Theater Initiative (ATI), founded by Theatre Development Fund (TDF), the not-for-profit performing arts service organization whose mission includes making theatre accessible for all audiences, was originally piloted to make theatre accessible to children and adults on the autism spectrum, and their families, with 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 and subsequent autism-friendly performances of Mary Poppins and a second sold-out performance of The Lion King in 2012 were successful in opening up the world of live theatre to this underserved community. Since then, autism-friendly performances of the Broadway musicals ELF and SPIDER-MAN Turn Off the Dark have also performed to sold-out audiences. To ensure that TDF will meet the needs of this audience, TDF works with an advisory panel of specialists in the field of autism.  These advisors have provided TDF with expertise and counsel throughout the development and implementation of this program.  Since ATI’s original successes, TDF has consulted with theatres in Houston, San Diego, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston and London on how to present their own autism-friendly performances.

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 fourth 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 makes 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, a not-for-profit service organization for the performing arts, 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 1968, TDF’s programs have provided over 85 million people with access to performances at affordable prices and have returned over $2.2 billion to thousands of productions. Best known for its TKTS Discount Booths, TDF’s membership, outreach, access (including its newly formed 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 information go to:

TDF wishes to acknowledge the following donors
for their generous support of the Autism Theatre Initiative:
Bank of America Charitable Gift Fund - General Fund, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee
Helene Berger Foundation
Christopher Bullock
Bulova Stetson Fund
The Cottonwood Foundation
The FAR Fund
Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism
The Flom Family Foundation
Robert Fried and Karen Kowgios
Robert and Joan Matloff
Bellanca S. Rutter
Seventh District Foundation
The Schafer Family Foundation*
Adolph and Ruth Schnurmacher Foundation
The Joseph LeRoy and Ann C. Warner Fund, Inc.
The Winter Family Fund

*Donation made in honor of Charles T. Locke III and Ronald J. Weiss

In-kind service provided by:

downloadable pdf image below of audience at autism-friendly performance of Disney's THE LION KNIG