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Sensory-friendly live performances make musical theater accessible to all

Seattle Theatre Group and Sensory Access create sensory-friendly performances of mainstream musicals like the upcoming: "FROZEN". Sponsored by Premera Blue Cross.

SEATTLE — Performance art and live theater impact us in powerful ways, some of which we take for granted amidst the awe and wonder of it all. But those living with sensory processing issues can have a very different experience, one that’s overwhelming on many levels.

That's why Seattle Theatre Group and Sensory Access have joined forces to create special sensory-friendly performances for mainstream musicals such as “FROZEN” and “The Lion King,” opening the live-theater experience to everyone.

"We are trying to make welcoming experiences for people that have different neuro-diverse needs to come to the theater and enjoy a live experience," said STG's Marisol Sanchez Best.

These individuals "process sensory information differently," said Sensory Access' Dr. Daniela Ferdico. This can include those living with autism, Down syndrome or other hindrances to standard processing mechanisms that may make the traditional live theater experience challenging.

"Some of the things that are difficult are loud and sudden, unexpected noises, you know, maybe high pitch or low pitched bright lights in their face that they weren't expecting."

Expected norms and traditional modes of behavior also have an impact, as seemingly routine things are magnified for those with sensory issues. “The rules or expectations people usually have for the theater – sitting quietly and only leaving or reentering the theater at intermission – can be difficult, especially for kids.”

STG and Sensory Access are working to mitigate some of these obstacles, thereby opening new worlds and perspectives for many who have thus far been deprived of the performing arts. Working with the production team, they can make subtle or substantial alterations to eliminate or reduce the impact of hindrances such as noise, lighting and jolting onstage surprises.

A crucial component of accommodating those with sensory sensitivities is to provide dedicated sensory areas where people can go to re-set during the show. The staff from Sensory Access provides trained therapists and others who monitor the audience and determine when someone needs to take a break, soothe themselves and re-set their sensory systems.

And that’s totally okay, as both women reiterate. “Everything’s accepted,” said Marisol. “Everybody is welcome and represented during that time.”

Finances can be a barrier for families who have higher expenses for medical care or ongoing therapies. Sponsors such as Premera Blue Cross offset the costs of these productions and offer ticket prices at varying levels so that more people can access them.

Seattle Theatre Group is thrilled to be introducing a sensory adapted version of the “FROZEN” musical to the Paramount Theater in February. As a parent to an autistic child herself, Dr. Ferdico explained the significance of that:

“You can experience a Broadway musical along with all these other people and no one judges you,” she said. “… When we did it last year with “The Lion King,” parents were crying and they came back saying, ‘I've never been able to do this. My child has never had this experience before.’ It's so powerful.”

EVENT INFO:  Disney's FROZEN: Sensory-Friendly Performance - Sat, Feb 22 at 2 PM at The Paramount Theater 911 Pine St, Seattle, WA 98101. Tickets are being sold at a discounted rate. Use Promo Code: SENSORY

STG's Sensory-Friendly Performances:  stgpresents.org/sensory-friendly

Sensory Access Events: sensoryaccess.org/seattle/ 

Sponsored by Premera Blue Cross. Segment Producer Joseph Suttner. Watch New Day Northwest 11 AM weekdays on KING 5 and streaming live on KING5.com. Contact New Day.   

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