By Jennifer Sloat
Sensory-friendly performances are now part of the marquee at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. The shows are modified to provide a more comfortable setting for children with special needs. The theater’s artistic director, Jeffrey Sanzel, said they have been providing sensory friendly shows since October 2016 and the feedback he is receiving has been very positive.
“A parent contacted us and asked us if we would consider doing it,” said Sanzel. “We want to be inclusive and so I started looking into it.”
Sanzel, who previously taught high school for two years, reached out to a former student who works with autistic children to get her feedback and assistance in making the modifications. He began the work in June 2016 and the first sensory sensitive show was performed in October of 2016.
Families who attend the show can expect house lights to remain up and special effects and sound levels to be lowered. The music is quieter and there are no strobe lights. Actors do not run through the aisles and instead do a slow motion chase. Kids can also move freely about the auditorium during the show, lowering stress levels for parents who are concerned about disturbing fellow audience members.
“Knowing that we would not be frowned upon in the event my son could not contain his excitement made it an enjoyable event for all of us,” said audience member Lisa Clark. “[My son] Christopher loved the show and did not want to leave. When a cast member realized we were having trouble getting him to the lobby to take pictures with the rest of the cast, she summoned the cast to gather around him. How awesome is that?”
A social story, provided on the theater’s website, is also used to lessen anxiety that kids may be feeling about attending the show. The online picture book can be reviewed by the children beforehand, providing a virtual walk through of attending a live show. It includes photos of the outside and inside of the theater, the box office and a picture of who will be giving them their tickets. Kids will see the path they will take to their seats, where they will sit and what the stage looks like. They will also see pictures of the actors in and out of their costume
“The thing that has been amazing is that ninety-nine percent of the kids have stayed the entire show; only twice did a child have to leave the show for a bit and come back up,” said Sanzel. All throughout the show the children are engaged, laughing and cheering. “We write our own shows and it is wonderful that they clearly are enjoying it.”
Perhaps most comforting of all is the opportunity for parents, caregivers and children to be in the company of others with whom they have something in common. “Families love it,” said Theatre Three company member Jessica Contino. “They are so thankful afterward. We stand in lobby for a meet and greet [after the show]. A young man in a wheelchair stopped us last year and said it was their second show. You just feel so good about it. It really hits home for some.”
Theatre Three is located at 412 Main Street in Port Jefferson. Sensory-friendly children shows are typically offered on the first Sunday of every month. Upcoming shows include “Rapunzel: The Untold Story!” on Jan. 21, “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” on March 11, “Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project” on April 29 and “Goldilocks — Is That You?” on June 3. All performances are at 11 a.m. All seats are $10. For further information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.
All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.