Special ‘relaxed performances’ of plays for audiences who might not get on with buttoned-up theatre-going etiquette are being staged. You can bring your iPhone and make as much noise as you want, reports Ed Frankl.
You’re sitting comfortably at the theatre. The show begins and you dig into your chocolate Minstrels. But some annoying person close to you starts moving around too much, making loud noises – and not at the right moment, either. It is extremely irritating. You frown, whisper something to your neighbour before leaning over to tell the offender to please be quiet.
Disapproving audience-members who shush for silence in hallowed theatre stalls are a key reason those with autism, and their families, get put off going. Amid an audience of hundreds, who under the cover of darkness might not realise that a noise is involuntary, or that an unconventional show of theatrical appreciation is coming from someone with a disability, people can be cruel. In 2011 front-of-house staff at a West End production of Wicked were accused of “outrageous discrimination” after a 12-year-old child with autism, Gregor Morris, was asked to leave the performance for making too much noise.
One solution is for theatres to host “relaxed performances”. Designed for those with learning disabilities and other sensory and communication disorders, relaxed performances adapt productions to reduce potential anxiety, and throw away some of the dogmatic rules. Audience-members are free to eat and drink, use phones and iPads, and exit and re-enter the performance during the show – in other words behaviours frowned upon by your stereotypical buttoned-up theatre-goer and the ushers on the doors.
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