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By: David LeShay
TDF's Communications Director
One of the most emotional experiences I've had while working at TDF happened right after our first autism-friendly performance of The Lion King. After the show, all of the TDF staffers were wearing identifying name tags. While standing in the lobby, as the audience was leaving the Minskoff Theatre, I was overwhelmed as parent after parent came up to me and my colleagues, many in tears, thanking us for producing this event.
Until that day they couldn't imagine being able to take their children with autism to see a Broadway show. Several had tried in the past, but felt uncomfortable if their child had an outburst or fidgeted in their chair, feeling all eyes were on them. At this autism-friendly performance, they all felt like they were in 'the same boat' and shared in the feeling of universal love and acceptance. It took me some time to begin to process those feelings.
A few days later, I spoke to a colleague from the New York Times who covered the show for an Artsbeat blog post, and he shared the same feelings I had---compassion, powerlessness, empathy. What that first performance proved, as well as subsequent performances of The Lion King and Mary Poppins, is that there is an audience of people with autism and their families who are hungry to experience something many of us take quite for granted.
That's why it's exciting that theatre companies across the United States are beginning to realize that they would like to serve this audience. As word spreads of the success we are having on Broadway with autism-friendly performances, TDF has been consulting with a few theatres around the country to help them stage autism-friendly performances of their own, including San Diego's terrific Old Globe Theatre. Last month, I was lucky enough to attend their special sensory-friendly performance of their holiday show, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Spearheaded by Managing Director Michael Murphy and Education Director Roberta Wells-Famula, their performance was an unqualified hit and succeeded in opening up the world of live theatre for this underserved community in Southern California.
Armed with my handy iphone 4s (yes, I know I'm not at a 5 yet), I created this slide show to give you a flavor of that great day.