Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival Children’s Production Offers Sensory-Friendly Performance

New for the 2017 season, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival will present its first relaxed performance on Saturday, June 10 at the 10am performance of The Ice Princess as part of an ongoing commitment to broaden the Festival’s accessibility offerings. In addition to American Sign Language-interpreted and audio-described performances, the new relaxed performance extends PSF’s mission “to enrich, inspire, engage, and entertain the widest possible audience.”

A relaxed performance is a specially adjusted sensory-friendly show designed to create a theatre experience for individuals with a wide range of sensory, learning, and communication differences. Some patrons who may benefit from a relaxed experience, in addition to those on the autism spectrum, include individuals with neurological and communication differences such as ADHD, social anxiety, OCD, dementia, and agoraphobia, as well as families with small children.

Adjustments and accommodations made at relaxed performances typically include a reduction of startling sound or lighting effects, freedom to vocalize, stand, and leave seats during the performance as needed, and freedom to use personal electronic devices for communication or sensory reasons. Noise cancelling headphones and a variety of stress sensory toys will be available to borrow, and there will also be a quiet area in the lobby for patrons who need a break during the performance. PSF will also provide pre-show preparation materials to assist attendees in planning their visit.

The most important accommodation is establishing the theatre as a “shush-free zone” where patrons are free to experience the show in whatever way is most comfortable, and all modes of expression are not only accepted, but expected and celebrated. Everyone in attendance will be aware of the relaxed nature of the performance, with the aim of creating an environment that is inclusive and judgement-free. The intention is that all patrons and their families, especially those who have been reluctant to visit the theatre for fear of disrupting a public performance, will feel welcomed and included.

PSF’s relaxed performance is made possible through an Audience (R)Evolution Grant from Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for the American theatre, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Along with five other professional theaters in the Tri-State area – Delaware Theatre Company, McCarter Theatre Center, Montgomery Theater, People’s Light, and Theatre Horizon – PSF is part of a cooperative and capacity-building cohort who will produce 10-12 relaxed performances over the next two years. TCG cohort grants empower teams of organizations to strategize and implement audience engagement and community development initiatives together. PSF is honored to receive this support and to work collectively to address accessibility and inclusivity needs in the region. Jill Arington, PSF’s education director says, “support from TCG and the synergy that comes from working with a cohort of passionate, like-minded theatre makers will dramatically increase our capacity to reach new audiences through relaxed performances.”

Project consultant Dr. Roger Ideishi is program director and associate professor of occupational therapy at Temple University and lead consultant at Ideishi Taylor Consulting. His role includes consultation to theatres as a national sensory-friendly theatre expert, staff education on developmental disabilities, and the development of preparatory materials with cohort theatres. He is a strong advocate of community-based learning and has helped increase community accessibility and engagement at performing arts venues, museums, airports, and libraries. “Bringing relaxed sensory-friendly performances to the Greater Philadelphia and Tri-State region through the TCG grant and theatre consortium demonstrates the power of collective action to change the public’s perception of diversity and inclusion, and ultimately to change society,” says Ideishi.

PSF will continue to offer ASL-interpreted and audio-described performances of The Ice Princess and other main stage performances in the 2017 season.

The Lehigh Valley Arts Council has been instrumental to supporting Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival’s accessible performances though their Arts & Access program, which was initially designed as a yearlong celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. PSF’s relaxed performance of The Ice Princess is also supported by a Greater Inclusion Grant.

About Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival
Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Patrick Mulcahy, Managing Director Casey Gallagher, and Associate Artistic Director Dennis Razze, is the only professional Equity theatre of its scope and scale within a 50-mile radius. PSF is one of only a handful of theatres on the continent producing Shakespeare, musicals, classics, and contemporary plays all of which can all be seen in rep and in multiple spaces within a few visits in a single summer season. A patron would have to travel seven to nine hours from PSF to find a greater range of offerings at a single theatre within a few weeks’ time.

The Festival’s award-winning company of many world-class artists includes Broadway, film, and television veterans, and winners and nominees of the Tony, Emmy, Obie, Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, Jefferson, Hayes, Lortel, and Barrymore awards. A leading Shakespeare theatre with a national reputation for excellence, PSF has received coverage in The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, American Theatre magazine, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A world-class theater experience on a par with the top Bard fests,” is how one New York Drama Desk reviewer characterized PSF.

Founded in 1992 and now the Official Shakespeare Festival of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, PSF’s mission is to enrich, inspire, engage, and entertain the widest possible audience through first-rate productions of classical and contemporary plays, with a core commitment to Shakespeare and other master dramatists, and through an array of education and mentorship programs. A not-for-profit theatre, PSF receives significant support from its host, DeSales University, and from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. With 150 performances of seven productions, the Festival attracts patrons each summer from 30+ states. In 25 years, PSF has offered 161 total productions (69 Shakespeare), and entertained 850,000+ patrons from 50 states, now averaging 38,000+ in attendance each summer season, plus another 15,000 students each year through its WillPower Tour. PSF is a multi-year recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts: Shakespeare in American Communities, and is a constituent of Theatre Communications Group, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, the Lehigh Valley Arts Council, and the Shakespeare Theatre Association. In 2013, leaders of the world’s premier Shakespeare theatres gathered at PSF as the Festival hosted the international STA Conference.

About Theatre Communications Group
Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for the American theatre, was founded in 1961 with a grant from the Ford Foundation to foster communication among professional, community and university theatres. Today, TCG’s constituency has grown from a handful of groundbreaking theatres to nearly 700 Member Theatres and Affiliate organizations and more than 12,000 individuals nationwide. TCG offers its members networking and knowledge-building opportunities through conferences, events, research and communications; grants approximately $2 million per year to theatre companies and individual artists; advocates on the federal level and serves as the U.S. Center of the International Theatre Institute, connecting its constituents to the global theatre community. TCG is the nation’s largest independent publisher of dramatic literature, with 13 Pulitzer Prizes for Best Play on their booklist; it also publishes the award-winning American Theatre magazine and ARTSEARCH®, the essential source for a career in the arts. In all of its endeavors, TCG seeks to increase the organizational efficiency of its member theatres, cultivate and celebrate the artistic talent and achievements of the field and promote a larger public understanding of, and appreciation for, the theatre.