WINCHESTER — Seeing a live theater performance can be a magical experience. The lights go out. All is quiet. The orchestra begins to play and just as the music reaches a crescendo the curtain rises and dozens of singing actors in brightly colored costumes start tap dancing across the stage.
But the lights and music that transport audiences to another place and time can be frightening to people with sensory processing issues or young children. And the special theater rules — don’t enter late, stay seated until the house lights go up and absolutely no talking — can be too restrictive for the wiggliest child.
To allow everyone to enjoy live theater, Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre will hold its first ever “Relaxed Performance” at 1:30 p.m. July 30.
The performance of “Sound of Music” also comes a special ticket price of $15, a discount from regular ticket prices.
SSMT worked with Grafton Integrated Health Network and local special education teachers to make sure the theater is modified into a welcoming environment for young children and those with sensory processing issues.
“We just saw the need with some of our patrons that they needed a chance to try out the theater experience in a less stressful way,” said Elizabeth Albert, associate managing director of Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre. “It’s becoming the industry standard for a lot of theaters around the country to provide this sort of opportunity.”
Some highlights of the “Relaxed Performance” include:
All seats will be general admission, so that patrons can choose the seats that work best for them.
There will be a special section reserved for theater-goers who need to move around more than others.
House lights will be left on at half the brightness.
Sound levels will be modified to remain consistent and at a lower level than a traditional performance. For instance, during the storm that inspires Maria to comfort the children by singing “My Favorite Things,” the clap of thunder may be more like a soft drum roll than the loud boom heard in the regular performance, Albert said.
A quiet space will be available for any families who may need a break from the stimulation.
Ticket holders may enter and exit the theater when needed during the performance. And a designated area will be marked as a “movers” section for those who think they may need to leave during the performance.
Comfort items (special blankets, cushions, headphones, etc.) are welcome — whatever is needed to feel comfortable during the performance.
The concession stand will feature a menu specifically geared to younger audience. Traditional house rules will be relaxed and families will be allowed to bring snacks and drinks into the theater.
There will also be a meet and greet with members of the company in the lobby after the show.
Grafton-trained house managers and community volunteers with special education experience will assist the SSMT staff the day of the performance.
On Friday at 1:30 p.m., there will be a “Meet the Seats” event to allow families to prepare for their theater performance next week. They can come to the theater and get a feel for the space, find the restrooms and where they are going to sit.
Tickets may be purchased at the Shenandoah Conservatory Box Office in the lobby of Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre on the Shenandoah University campus or by phone at 540-665-4569.