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Sensory-friendly theater performances tailored to autism community

Magik Theatre takes steps to accommodate special-needs people

SAN ANTONIO – In a place where audiences are normally quiet, voices are welcome.

"If the child is comfortable experiencing the show vocally, and they are making noise and talking, that is 100 percent fine," Magik Theatre artistic director Frances Limoncelli said.

In a setting where people usually remain seated, bouncing off the walls is encouraged.

"If they need to dance or run up and down the aisles, that is 100 percent fine," Limoncelli said.

That's how it's been at Magik Theatre for nearly two years following the addition of sensory-friendly performances, where theater etiquette is thrown out the window for children with autism and other mental or sensory conditions.

People with these conditions often have a hard time dealing with bright or flashing lights, loud sounds and surprises. The theater's sensory-friendly program modifies sights and sounds just enough to make it a comfortable place without changing the play.

"The house lights were on the entire time; we took out a few lighting cues that were going to be too strobe-like or anything," said Cody Asher, an actor. "We tone down the music and our vocals at the sound boards."

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Two years ago, the theater hosted a few sensory-friendly performances a year. Now, they have one in each production run.

The lobby features a television monitor for anyone feeling overwhelmed to take a break without missing a moment of the sensory-friendly performance. Theatergoers attending traditional plays also use the monitor when darkness or loud sounds are too much to handle.

Before the play, families can log on to the theater's website to run through its previsit story. With autism, a break from an everyday routine can be jarring. The slideshow allows families to become familiar with the process of going to a play.

The brighter house and toned-down performances are not "typical theater," but actor Jovi Gonzales believes it's one of the best performances they put on.

"We do the show over and over and over again, but that one always stands out particularly. And I think it is because of how excited the kids are that are watching us," she said.

The reviews from families are positive.

Patricia DuTerroil attended a recent performance of "The Three Javelinas" with her grandson, Benedict, who has a brother with autism. DuTerroil said the environment was one her entire family may be able to enjoy together one day.

"I can see the difference for children who have a disability," she said. "It is less lively but more of a softer, gentler approach, and I think it's very entertaining just the way it is."

Benedict was quite complimentary of the production.

"I would feel proud that my brother, who has a disability, has the chance to go to a sensory-friendly performance," he said. "It would be a new experience for him. It would be a lot more fun for him because he is with his two other siblings. It's more fun when you're with someone doing something."

For upcoming sensory-friendly show listings at Magik Theatre, click here. 

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