Theatre Cohort Increases Accessibility and Inclusivity Across the Delaware Valley

Theatre Cohort Increases Accessibility and Inclusivity Across the Delaware Valley

People's Light leads a cohort of six professional area theatres in expanding the availability of Relaxed Performances (RPs) in the region. The six-member cohort - Delaware Theatre Company, McCarter Theatre Center, Montgomery Theater, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, People's Light, and Theatre Horizon - will address accessibility and inclusivity needs by offering 10-12 Relaxed Performances over the next two years.

A Relaxed Performance is a live theatre experience that is inclusive for everyone. These performances invite and encourage individuals with - but are not limited to - autism, ADD, ADHD, dementia, and sensory sensitivities to all take part in the joy of theatre in a shush-free zone. Oftentimes those on the autism spectrum, individuals with other neurological differences, and their families do not attend theatre as the social cost of attending and possibly disrupting a public performance may be a barrier.

The cohort has received an Audience (R)Evolution Cohort Grant from the national organization for theatre, Theatre Communications Group (TCG) to support this initiative.

Project consultant Roger Ideishi is Program Director and Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy at Temple University, Lead Consultant at Ideishi Taylor Consulting, and the 2017 recipient of the Cultural Access award from Art-Reach. He advises various community organizations, throughout the country, on increasing community accessibility and engagement at performing arts venues, museums, airports, libraries, outdoor play spaces, and learning gardens.

According to Dr. Ideishi, "Bringing relaxed performances to the Greater Philadelphia and Tri-State region through the TCG grant and theatre consortium demonstrates the power of collective action to change the public's perception of diversity and inclusion, and ultimately to change society."

People's Light draws on extensive staff experience, a long track record of working with individuals on the autism spectrum and with a range of cognitive differences through in-school residency programs, several years of rigorous research pertaining to relaxed performances, and five recent successful RPs. People's Light was awarded the 2015 Cultural Access Award from Art-Reach in Philadelphia for the company's ongoing accessibility efforts, including the first production of a relaxed performance in the Philadelphia region.

In 2011 People's Light commissioned a study of their residency work at the Pathway School to analyze how theatre activities affect the social skills of students with autism. The study, published in the Journal of Speech Pathology & Therapy in November 2015, concluded that students who participated in the theatre project displayed significant improvements in social behaviors.

McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey began offering relaxed performances during its 2012-13 Season.

"I'm thrilled by the prospect of how this consortium will take relaxed performance programs in our region to the next level by sharing and refining best practices and building a network of families and caregivers who see live theatre as a safe, supportive, inclusive, and enjoyable place to spend time with their loved ones with sensory differences," says Erica Nagel, Director of Education and Engagement at McCarter Theatre Center.

Following McCarter's and People's Light's nine total relaxed performances to date, the Philadelphia theatre community has seen key recent developments in offering relaxed performances. The Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia Theater Company, and Pennsylvania Ballet performed their first relaxed performances in the past year, and several other area arts institutions are currently in discussion for upcoming accessible programming. Roger Ideishi and members of this cohort have been drawn on for their expertise to support these recent efforts.

Beginning in the fall of 2008, Theatre Horizon was the first theatre in the Philadelphia region with an education program dedicated specifically to those with autism. Theatre Horizon's Autism Drama Program is comprised of two classes: Youth Drama (10-16 year olds) and Storytelling and the Art of Playwriting (17-30+), a partnership between Theatre Horizon and Philadelphia Young Playwrights.

Established in 1992, The Totally Awesome Players (TAP) Program at Delaware Theatre Company employs acting skills and the creation of a play to increase the social skills and creativity of young people with intellectual disabilities. The TAP Program serves the entire state by offering in-school workshops at the Howard T. Ennis School, a school for students with significant disabilities located in Sussex County, Delaware.

For the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival (PSF) and Montgomery Theater, this is an exciting new frontier.

Confirmed upcoming relaxed performances include:

  • Sisters of Swing: The Story of the Andrews Sisters by Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage at Montgomery Theater on April 22, 2017 at 3pm

  • Children's music performer Laurie Berkner in concert at McCarter Theatre Center on April 29, 2017 at 11am

  • Hetty Feather by Emma Reeves, based on the novel by Jacqueline Wilson at Delaware Theatre Company on May 7, 2017 at 7pm

  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Dwayne Hartford, based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo at People's Light on May 28, 2017 at 2pm and June 1, 2017 at 10:30am

  • The Ice Princess by Brandon E. McLauren, adapted from Hans Christian Anderson at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival on June 19, 2017 at 10am


Now in its 42nd season, People's Light, a professional, not-for-profit theatre in Chester County, Pennsylvania, makes plays drawn from many sources to entertain, inspire, and engage our community. We extend our mission of making and experiencing theatre through arts education programs that excite curiosity about, and deepen understanding of, the world around us. These plays and programs bring people together and provide opportunities for reflection, discovery, and celebration. Founded in 1974, we produce eight to nine plays each season, in two black box theatres with 340 and 160 seats respectively, mixing world premieres, contemporary plays, and fresh approaches to classic texts for our 7-Play, Spark, and Teen Series.

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