Autism & Theatre - Inspiration Day 2013 Marks Culmination of Relaxed Performance Pilot Project
Organisers of the Autism & Theatre - Inspiration Day 2013 on Monday 2 September at the Lyceum Theatre, London, attended by over 170 delegates from theatres and arts organisations across the UK, have reported the event to be a huge success.
The Inspiration Day was the culmination of the national Relaxed Performance Pilot Project 2012/13, created through a partnership of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), the Theatrical Management Association (TMA), The Prince's Foundation for Children & the Arts (Children & the Arts), the Ambassador Theatre Group and The Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation, and drawing together the experiences and evaluation of the eight UK theatres* participating in the pilot.
The pilot project was a strategic response following the Autism & Theatre Conference in 2011 to develop the existing work of theatres that had been providing autism-friendly or Relaxed Performances for many years - such as the Polka Theatre, London, and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds - to build on the industry appetite to hold such performances on a regular basis, and to share learning and best practice about Relaxed Performances in order to encourage and facilitate a greater take up of Relaxed Performances in theatres across the UK.
The project directly addressed the fact that many families with autistic children or children with sensory and communication needs and/or a learning disability are reluctant for a variety of reasons to attend public theatre performances. Working closely with partners from the autism and learning disability sectors, including The National Autistic Society and mencap, the project team recognised early on that they had to engage with a diversity of individual needs across the audience.
Evaluation of the Relaxed Performance Project:
The theatres participating in the Relaxed Performance Project were selected based on the type of production on offer - a representative range of musicals, drama, comedy and pantomime - all of which were family friendly and appealing to a range of ages - in order to develop robust best practice for the theatre sector at large.
The project team provided:
- autism-specific training to 300 theatre staff, including the cast, box office, bar and ushers
- advice to marketing and box office teams on how to find and engage with potential audiences
- visual guides for all families to prepare them for their visit to the theatre and the show (in some cases, families had the opportunity to visit the theatre a few days earlier to familiarise themselves with the surroundings)
- every participating theatre was advised on adjusting light and sound levels during the performance to suit the needs of the audience
- designated chill-out areas for audience members to use should being in the auditorium become overwhelming, lessening stress for all family members
A research team was commissioned to assess the audience, staff and theatre experience.
From November 2012 to June 2013 the Relaxed Performance Project engaged with a total of 4,983 audience members at eight theatres with an average audience per relaxed performance of 622. This total audience comprised:
42% families living with autism
33% community groups (autism specific community organisations and SEN schools)
25% others who would benefit from a Relaxed Performance
Of those individuals interviewed after a Relaxed Performance:
60% reported that they had never been to the theatre before as a family
30% had never been to the theatre
90% had never been to a Relaxed Performance
Over 80% of those interviewed confirmed that they would attend another Relaxed Performance.
Parents suggested that the promotion of and attendance at a Relaxed Performance brought about a shift in public awareness and a greater understanding of autism through engagement with their local networks. This in turn increased their confidence in attending a further Relaxed Performance.
The overarching themes of the Inspiration Day were:
- A shared ambition for access and inclusion across all UK theatres and the arts sector more generally
- The development of new, increased and diverse audiences for UK theatres
- A commitment to adapting the Relaxed Performance model to museums, orchestras and dance organisations, and to new forms of artistic content
- The development of a huge range of theatrical performances now regularly available as a choice for this audience
- Enjoyment, inspiration and motivation for theatres and cast members in providing Relaxed Performances