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Theatre Development Fund pilots Autism Theatre Initiative at Disney's landmark musical, "The Lion King"

Date: Aug 17, 2011
Press Release


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Theatre Development Fund, the not-for-profit performing arts service organization whose mission includes making theatre accessible for all audiences, is piloting a new program, Autism Theatre Initiative, to make theatre accessible to children and adults on the autism spectrum, and their families. 

The program, which is a part of TDF’s Accessibility Programs (TAP), will present the first ever autism-friendly performance in Broadway history at Disney’s landmark musical The Lion King on Sunday, October 2, at 1pm. For this special performance, TDF has purchased every seat in the theatre for sale to families whose members include individuals on the autism spectrum.

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 will provide TDF with expertise and counsel throughout the development and implementation of this pilot program. 

“We’re very excited to be able to create a program specifically for this underserved community for whom it can be extremely difficult to near impossible to attend the theatre,” said Victoria Bailey, TDF’s executive director. “We’re grateful to Thomas Schumacher and everyone at Disney Theatrical Productions who have been extremely supportive and are committed to helping us provide an unforgettable experience for these families.”

“For the first time in Broadway history a designated performance of a show will be open to the autism community,” said Lisa Carling, TDF’s director of accessibility programs (TAP).  “Our goal is to be as inclusive as possible, welcoming families with children and adults on the autism spectrum, including Asperger’s syndrome, to fill the theatre and be assured that everyone involved with the production—from the cast, production crew and theatre staff—is delighted to have the audience there.  No judgments—just united support in making the theatre experience as enjoyable as possible for its audience.”

“Autism Speaks is delighted to see TDF’s support of the autism community,” said Dana Marnane, Autism Speaks vice president of awareness and events. “Many families with a loved one on the spectrum struggle to attend the movies or theatre. Creating compassionate environments for families will help to raise awareness and acceptance everywhere.”

In order to be “autism-friendly,” the show is 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 production will include reduction of any jarring sounds or strobe lights focused into the audience.  In the theatre lobby area there will be designated quiet areas, staffed with autism experts, if anyone needs to leave their seats during the performance.

Tickets for this performance, which is nearly sold out, were purchased by tri-State area schools and members of organizations that serve people on the autism spectrum.  If you are interested in being notified of future autism-friendly performances, please 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 theatergoers 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

Theatre Development Fund (TDF) has played a unique role in strengthening live theatre and dance in New York City for the past 43 years. This not-for-profit service organization’s programs have filled over 78 million seats at discount prices (with theatre lovers who would normally not be able to attend live performance) and returned nearly two billion dollars in revenue to thousands of theatre, dance and music productions. Best known for its TKTS Discount Booths, TDF’s membership, voucher, access and education programs as well as its Costume Collection, help to make the unique experience of theatre available to everyone. TDF’s book, Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play has spurred a national conversation about the way playwrights and theatre companies interact. TDF recently launched the Official TKTS app for iPhone and Android which has been embraced by theatre fans the world over.

As it begins its 14th 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 1997 Broadway premiere, 18 global productions have been seen by more than 60 million people, and grossed over $4.3 billion to date.  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 five 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 14 different countries on five continents.  The Lion King can currently be seen on Broadway (its flagship production), on stages across North America, and in Las Vegas, London’s West End, Hamburg, Tokyo and Singapore.  In October 2011, the first Spanish production will bow in Madrid. To learn more visit,

TDF wishes to acknowledge the following donors for their generous support of  the Autism Theatre Initiative:The Joseph LeRoy and Ann C. Warner Fund, Inc.; Ronald McDonald House Charities New York Tri-State Area; and Build-A-Bear Workshop Foundation.

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