Last week, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte began preparation for its March 2014 show with sensory-friendly training for a play that addresses autism, both in the story and its presentation.
The play, “Spelling 2-5-5,” is one of a dozen shows the Children’s Theatre announced for its 2013-14 season. Others include Disney’s “Tarzan: The Stage Musical,” “Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly,” and for preschoolers, “Balloonacy.”
“Spelling 2-5-5” tells the story of Simon, who feels his mother’s attention is unevenly weighted toward his younger, autistic brother. Simon enters a spelling bee, seeing an opportunity to shine, but learns that his brother is drawn to spelling. He must decide if he can share the spotlight.
Children’s Theatre wants to tell this story for its narrative value, but also wants to make the show a friendly environment for families who deal with autism.
In mid-April, Children’s Theatre hosted a group from Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Md., who specialize in sensory-friendly training. They explore ways theaters can create a friendly environment for autistic community members. For instance, if a show includes a surprise that might startle its audience, an actor might hold up a glow stick to indicate the impending moment. Measures are taken to make sure children know they are welcome to move around or make noise during the show.
Children’s Theatre was looking for a way to incorporate autism into the program when Interim Artistic Director Michelle Long received an email from “Spelling 2-5-5’s” Canadian playwright, Jennifer Overton. Long was drawn to the way Overton framed the subject matter in her email.
“It’s not that one of the children in the piece is disabled,” Overton wrote, “it’s that they’re differently abled. How do we celebrate that?”
Serving diverse audiences is a theme in many Children’s Theatre productions.
“We want to make sure that we are presenting shows that speak to the social issues our community deals with,” Long said.
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