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THE LION KING & MARY POPPINS to Hold Autism-Friendly Performances

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TDF's Autism Theater Initiative will present autism-friendly performances of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's Mary Poppins on Sunday, April 29, at 1pm, at the New Amsterdam Theatre (214 West 42nd, Street, NYC) and Disney's The Lion King on Sunday, September 30, at 1pm, at the Minskoff Theatre (1515 Broadway, NYC). These performances illustrate TDF's commitment to continuing to present autism-friendly performances in New York City. TDF is also available to consult with other theatre organizations across the United States who would like to present their own autism-friendly performances.

Last fall, Theatre Development Fund (TDF), the not-for-profit performing arts service organization whose mission includes making theatre accessible for all audiences, piloted the new program, Autism Theatre Initiative (which is part of TDF's Accessibility Programs [TAP]), to make theatre accessible to children and adults on the autism spectrum, and their families. They presented the first-ever autism-friendly performance of a Broadway show at Disney's landmark The Lion King on October 2, 2011. That sold-out performance was successful in opening up the world of live theatre to this underserved community. These autism-friendly performances are presented with the cooperation of Disney Theatrical Productions. NBC Nightly News did a feature on that performance which illustrates the impact on the children and their families. Here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gpDzF6Xpfs.

For these performances of Mary Poppins and The Lion King, TDF has purchased every seat in the theatre for sale at discount prices to families whose members include individuals on the autism spectrum. Tickets to these special performances are sold only through the TDF website at www.tdf.org/autism. The Mary Poppins performance is nearly sold out. Tickets to the September 30 performance of The Lion King will go on sale in late spring. To be notified when this performances goes on sale, as well as any future autism-friendly performances, please sign up at www.tdf.org/autism.

"The pilot autism-friendly performance of The Lion King was successful beyond our greatest expectations," said Victoria Bailey, TDF's executive director. "It was tremendously emotional watching families experience live theatre together for the first time in an environment that was safe and supportive. Special thanks to Thomas Schumacher and everyone at Disney Theatrical Productions for their professionalism and dedication to expanding audiences and allowing us to continue to present these special performances."

"The feedback from the autism community has been extraordinary," said Lisa Carling, TDF's director of accessibility programs (TAP). "Our goal with Autism Theatre Initiative is to be as inclusive as possible, welcoming families with children and adults on the autism spectrum, including Asperger's syndrome, to fill the entire theatre and be assured that everyone involved with the production-from the cast, production crew and theatre staff-is united in making the show an unforgettable experience for all."

"I can think of few other events in Disney Theatrical Productions' history that have moved and gratified us and The Lion King family more than the autism-friendly performance we did with TDF at the Minskoff last fall," said Thomas Schumacher, Producer and President Disney Theatrical Productions. "We are honored to be able to collaborate on these upcoming performances and to be part of something that opens up the epic experience of theatre to a whole new audience."

"Nothing could be better than to have an autism-friendly theatre that is a totally safe place for a family to be with their child with autism," said Mark Roithmayr, President of Autism Speaks.

In order to be "autism-friendly," the shows are being performed in a friendly, supportive environment for an audience of families and friends with children or adults who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensitivity issues. Slight adjustments to the productions include reduction of any jarring sounds or strobe lights focused into the audience. In the theatre lobby area there are designated quiet areas, staffed with autism experts, if anyone needs to leave their seats during the performance.

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