Creating Inclusive Theatre Environments at CapU
Published8 February, 2024
Photo credit Patrick Leung
Relaxed performance accommodations at the BlueShore Theatre support diverse ways to enjoy art.
For many people, attending a theatre performance is simple – buy a ticket, sit in a seat for a couple of hours and enjoy the show.
For people on the autism spectrum and neurodiverse individuals with sensory, communication or intellectual challenges, the experience of going to the theatre can be stressful.
Are the lights going to be too bright? Will it be too noisy? Is there going to be a crowd? What visual and auditory effects will be used?
Supporting diverse ways to enjoy art
How can we welcome and support diverse ways for patrons to experience the arts? CapU’s Theatre department in the School of Performing Arts hopes that relaxed performance accommodations can help.
For the 2023-24 theatre season, every play and musical theatre production by the Theatre department held at CapU’s BlueShore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts will include a show with relaxed performance accommodations.
Relaxed performance accommodations mean that house lights will remain on throughout the performance, venue doors will remain open so patrons can come and go, audience members can freely move and make noise during the performance, a quiet room is available and stage sounds and effects are adjusted for reduced sensory stimulation.
Ways to create inclusive theatre environments
A sensory guide with information on the plot, cast and visual effects is shared in advance so patrons can prepare beforehand.
“We created a visual story for the theatre that can be used for any performance in our venue,” said Sheri-Lynn Day, box office supervisor for the BlueShore Theatre. “This includes how to get here, parking, accessibility within the venue, including photographs of what the patron will encounter like the ticket booth, concession and washrooms.”
There have been two relaxed performances so far and Day says the response has been positive. “People have told me they really appreciate the photographs of the seating beforehand.”
Enjoy a Night at the Theatre
Tickets are available for purchase online for all performances. Accessible seating must be purchased by calling the ticket office at 604 990 7810.Buy Now
Adapting and learning
On the stage, directors and actors must learn to adapt their performance to a relaxed performance environment.
“I had to consider how to adapt the triggering elements of the show and have the students go over them in rehearsals to mark and tone down the intensity of the performances of chaotic scenes,” said Nicholas Harrison, instructor and director of Clue on Stage. “I also asked the actors to reduce vocals, sudden physical moments, jump scares, et cetera.”
Harrison recognizes the importance of relaxed performance accommodations but notes that adaptions can impact the intent of the performances.
“It needs to be clear to the audience what a relaxed performance is, so audiences don’t leave thinking the performances are uninspired,” Harrison said.
Harrison admits there is still work to be done to improve the experience of relaxed performances for the cast, crew and audience.