How can I prepare for a trip to the theatre?

For many people on the autism spectrum or with intellectual disabilities, new experiences can be uncomfortable and sometimes cause anxiety. One of the methods used to overcome this issue is the Social Story, created by Carol Gray in 1990. Also known as visual stories, these are short guides which mix pictures and simple text, rather like a flipbook. You can look through your visual story whenever it suits you, to prepare yourself for the new experience.

This is a great example of a video visual story, produced by the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. The advantage of a video version is that you can really see the details of the building, the staff and the experience itself; you can also watch it whenever and wherever you want if you have a mobile phone or tablet.

Some companies have even produced their own apps to help familiarise visitors with cultural events. The best I’ve yet seen is Show and Tell by Circus Starr. This app includes lots of video footage of the circus tent, the acts and the ringmaster, as well as allowing users to customise their own visual story by adding pictures and text.

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What does a relaxed performance look like?

This is a fantastic video from the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, presenting their first ever relaxed performance for a production of The Ghost Train by Arnold Ridley. You can see many of the features of a well-planned relaxed performance here: the houselights stay on, the doors are open so people can go outside to the chill-out area, the staff are shown receiving training, and the actors introduce the show to ensure a welcoming environment.

Click here to watch the video on YouTube.

Where are relaxed performances happening?

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As you can see from this map (based on data from 2009 – 2014), relaxed performances have taken place in several countries, but the largest number occur in the USA and the UK. Since I gathered this information, relaxed performances have begun to appear in other countries, such as France, Sweden and South Africa. I’m always interested to hear the terms used in other countries for “relaxed performance” – for example, in Spain, it’s  known as “teatro distendido”. If you know the phrase used in your country, please do get in touch!

How many relaxed performances take place each year?

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In early 2015, I carried out an investigation into the spread of relaxed performance, from the first autism-friendly shows at theatres like Polka Theatre in London and West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds back in 2009, all the way up to the 2014-15 pantomime season. As you can see, there’s been a remarkable rise in the number of performances for people with autism, with over 120 shows taking place in 2014. By the 2015-16 pantomime season, there were more than 200 in the UK alone, and it just keeps rising each year.