Inclusive Performances: Supporting Performers and Audience Members

Make your performance welcoming for performers and audience members with a range of needs with these ideas for an inclusive event.

Inclusive Performances: Supporting Performers and Audience Members
  • Wrapping Up & Reflecting
  • Practical Tips & Accommodations
  • //
  • Liberated Learning Environments

Inclusive Performances: Supporting Performers and Audience Members

 Learn

The term “relaxed performance” emerged around 2015 and simply means the performance supports audience members (and performers) in experiencing the show with accommodations that make the experience more accessible, whether they need more or less sensory stimulation, need to stand up and move, need easy access to the bathroom or a space to take a break, etc.

Try

Identify—and make known—what supports are available: if you’re able to provide headphones/sunglasses, fidget tools, reserved aisle seating, break space, etc.

 Try

Announce before the show that this is an inclusive space—it is ok to make noise and enjoy yourself during the show, or get up if you need to.

  • Lower the volume for all sound (music, mic, sound effects, etc.).
  • Remove any strobe or flashing lighting effects.
  • Raise the house lights by 30% or more during the performance.
  • Seat audience members strategically. For audience members sensitive to loud noises, seat them away from the speakers; for audience members who are hard of hearing, seat them nearer to the speakers. You can offer these areas as recommendations to allow audience members to make their own choices.
  • Provide headphones for those with sound-sensitivity and/or sunglasses for those with light-sensitivity.

Yellow noise-reducing headphones Blue sunglasses

  • Provide small stress balls or other fidgets that can help audience members focus and sit still.
  • Consider adding a coloring page into the program to give audience members something to do while they are waiting.

Multicolored koosh ball White hand squeezing sac of colorful gel.

  • Consider designating a quiet space where audience members (and/or performers) can go if they need a break.

Young white boy with glasses and book sitting on a beanbag chair.

  • For those who need quick access to an exit and don’t want to disturb a whole row of audience members, offer aisle seats.

  • A Social Story is given to audience members in advance so that they know what to expect before, during, and after a performance.
  • Before or while making your Social Story, it is worthwhile to pause and reflect on the possible disparities between the spaces your students experience in daily life and the space they will enter into for the performance.
    • What social status has society endowed onto this space?
    • Is it different from your students’ daily spaces?
    • How can your Social Story help your students’ social/emotional journey through a new space alongside their practical and dramatic experiences in the space?
  • Remember, the goal of a Social Story is to help prepare your students so that they feel comfortable in a new space—not to prescribe a specific kind of ‘good’ or ‘socially acceptable’ behavior in a new space.
  • Social Stories should be shared at least one week ahead of time.
  • Social Stories provide details about the physical space (e.g., an usher will take your ticket and lead you to your seat. If you are overwhelmed, you can sit in the lobby) and the performance or event itself (basic plot of the show, what the performers/costumes look like, moments that are scary, loud, or visually overwhelming)
  • Your Social Story should be a visual and verbal (could be a video, slideshow, packet, etc.) description of what to expect.
    If developing a Social Story for a student performance, consider co-creating these with the students performing.

  • Sometimes even the best-intentioned theatergoers have just one idea of what it means to be a respectful audience member. It’s helpful to remind everyone that all are welcome to enjoy the show in their own way. It’s okay to get up and come back. Encourage the audience not to judge behavior from other audience members, or deem the space a “no-shushing” zone.

  • Check in with audience members to see if there’s anything you can do to make their experience more enjoyable.

  • Those who need a break from sitting in their seat, along with their caregivers might still want to see what’s happening on stage. While this may not be possible in school spaces, it’s important to have a sense of all of the tools that exist to make performances more inclusive and comfortable for all involved.

  • Remember, these are recommendations, not prescribed solutions. Every student’s needs will be different, just as every space’s capabilities will be different—as well as every Teaching Artist’s resources and support team. Be thoughtful, but also realistic.
  • Your Classroom Professionals, school staff, and principal are all valuable resources and collaborators in transforming spaces for greater inclusivity. Your knowledge and enthusiasm for inclusive practices, combined with their institutional and spatial knowledge can combine to help tailor your efforts to the specific needs of your students and space.
  • Consider enlisting their help in creating and implementing intentional seating arrangements, in identifying a second space for a sensory break if the size or layout of your performance space cannot accommodate one, and in how to thoughtfully balance budgetary, time, and resource constraints alongside your individual students’ needs.

Remote Teaching and Learning Tip:

Offering a breakout room where participants can engage in their own sensory experience at home away from the main event can be an excellent way to incorporate inclusive practices into your digital facilitation.

External Resources