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By MARK BLANKENSHIP
For Alana Feld, there's no question why family-friendly theatre is so important. "To have something the whole family can attend---parents, kids, boys, girls, children of different ages---is just really great," she says. "Kids are so busy and parents are so busy. They need an experience where the family can go together and enjoy each other."
Feld has dedicated her career to making those experiences possible. As an Executive Vice President and Producer at Feld Entertainment, Inc., she helps produce family-friendly shows for audiences around the country, shepherding tours of everything from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey to Disney on Ice.
Recently, though, Feld Entertainment approached Theatre Development Fund about making one of its shows even more accessible to families in New York.
On Saturday, April 19, the two organizations will partner to present an autism-friendly performance of Disney Junior Live on Tour! Pirate & Princess Adventure, a production for younger children that features characters from the Disney Junior television series Sofia the First and Jake and the Never Land Pirates.
The show, which will run at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, is part of TDF's Autism Theatre Initiative. The program presents modified versions of live performances that are tailored to the needs of people on the autism spectrum and their families. In the case of Disney Junior Live On Tour!, the adjustments include reducing sound levels, altering sections that typically call for audience participation, and cutting a moment where a Tinkerbell light zooms through the crowd. (As always, trained volunteers will also be on hand, and special areas will be provided for children who need to take a break.)
However, Feld says these changes won't affect the heart of the show, and she's even commissioned a series of videos that will help audiences get in the spirit. Before they attend, children on the spectrum can watch cast members performing dances and songs from the production. Ideally, that will make them comfortable with the show from the second they enter the theatre.
"It's a safe environment," Feld says. "Parents can know their child is going to see an amazing show and be entertained in a way they can accept and handle."
To celebrate this partnership, TDF will honor Feld---as well as her sisters Juliette and Nicole, who are also Executive Vice Presidents and Producers at Feld Entertainment---as part of its 2014 gala on Monday, March 3. The gala celebrates the 35th anniversary of TDF's Theatre Accessibility Programs (TAP), which serve a wide variety of audience members with special needs. (Tovah Feldshuh will host the event, and performers will include Melissa Errico, the singing string quartet Well-Strung, and from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson and the hand-balancing act Duo Fusion.)
For Feld, the relationship with the Autism Theatre Initiative is an obvious fit with her larger mission. "We're excited by the idea of doing an autism-friendly show," she says. "We're all about bringing joy to families, and we want to do that for all families."
Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor