by ANNA GROOVER
Making live theater more accessible is often on the minds of the folks at Cardinal Stage. One example is Cardinal’s Community Ticket Initiative, which allows people to see theater performances free of charge. Another way Cardinal is making theater more accessible is with sensory-friendly performances of their Cardinal for Kids productions during the 2019–20 season. The first is Charlotte’s Web on November 3 at 4 p.m. The second will be The Stinky Cheese Man & Other Fairly Stupid Tales, on May 17, 2020, also at 4 p.m.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts defines sensory-friendly performances as “designed to create a performing arts experience that is welcoming to all families with children with autism or with other disabilities that create sensory sensitivities.” Staging a sensory-friendly production involves keeping house lights on; lowering the sound level, especially for startling or loud sounds; allowing patrons to talk and leave their seats; providing a space for standing and movement; and making other adjustments to the venue and environment.
“We want to make our work accessible to all families,” says Kate Galvin, Cardinal’s artistic director. To do this, Cardinal brought Melissa Dubie on board to provide guidance as they adapt the two productions to meet sensory-friendly guidelines. Dubie is an educational consultant at the Indiana Resource Center for Autism at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University.
For Mandy Hussey, a mother of two boys, the sensory-friendly production of Charlotte’s Web is a gamechanger. Last year, one of her sons had a role in Cardinal’s production of Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. But she felt her younger son, who has autism, couldn’t attend his brother’s performances because the traditional confines of a theater production might prove too restrictive. This fall, he’ll be able to watch his big brother perform in the sensory-friendly staging of Charlotte’s Web. “We’re really appreciative to be in the community we’re in,” Hussey says.
Adds Gabe Gloden, Cardinal’s managing director, “We have a broader mission besides just doing great art. We need to be a champion for these types of initiatives.”