For some families, a trip to see a local children’s theater show can be a fun time out to keep the little ones entertained.
But for families with children with different sensory needs — including children on the Autism spectrum, those with Down syndrome, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or with other special needs — going to the theater can pose a number of challenges. The show might be too loud, the room might be too dark or there might be too many people in the space.
In an effort to ensure as many families possible have the opportunity to enjoy live entertainment, StoryBook Theater has adapted its current main stage show, “Pinocchio,” to include two sensory-friendly performances during its run, which begins later this month.
The two performances will be on Jan. 27 at the Renton Carco Theatre, 1717 Maple Valley Hwy. in Renton, and on Feb. 4 at Kirkland Performance Center, 350 Kirkland Ave. in Kirkland. Both shows will be at 1:30 p.m.
StoryBook is the professional arm of the Kirkland-based Studio East Training for the Performing Arts, which provides theater arts education opportunities for children.
While Studio East productions are student performed, development and marketing director Dana Fialdini said their StoryBook productions feature professional adult actors. The shows run about 55 minutes and are geared toward children from about 3-10 years old.
Fialdini said the shows also include lessons for their young audiences to learn. The main lesson in “Pinocchio” is the importance of telling the truth. In addition to the lesson in the show, she said youngsters also learn how to be good audience members as they are taught to listen when the actors are acting and to respond when the performers are interacting with them.
StoryBook offers four shows a year, three mainstage shows and a holiday show. The company’s shows typically fall under the fairy tale/nursery rhymes genre, with previous productions including “The Little Mermaid,” “Three Little Pigs” and “The Tortoise & the Hare.” This spring, the company will present “Rapunzel.”
The two upcoming sensory-friendly shows — as well as two performances of “Rapunzel” in April — are part of a pilot program and will be the first in StoryBook’s 20 season history, thanks to a partnership they formed with the Safeco Insurance Fund.
According to its website, the fund supports nonprofit organizations in Washington and its grant programs focus on educational opportunity for underprivileged youth, ensuring security through life-saving basic services to homeless men, women and children and promoting accessibility for individuals of all abilities.
Fialdini said the goal of the sensory-friendly shows is to make theater friendly for all and to create a safe place for families. The idea to offer such performances came as they were hearing from patrons who were asking for the option. The patrons had seen some of StoryBook’s mainstage shows but were running into challenges when it came to their children with sensory special needs.
As they worked to make the sensory-friendly shows a reality, Fialdini said they consulted with others in the industry who have done the same thing. She said they received a lot of help from the Dallas Children’s Theater, whose sensory-friendly shows have been well received in the local community. In addition, StoryBook also worked with professionals in early education and talked to their patrons with children with special sensory needs.
Some of the changes they have made to be more sensory friendly include bringing up the house lights so the room is not as dark, reducing the sound level and offering a quiet space for children who may need a break from the show. Fialdini said they are also selling fewer tickets to the show so there is more room in the theater for children to move around if they need to. In addition, StoryBook is offering online video tours of the theater so parents can prepare their children prior to coming to the show.
“The unknown is very scary to these kids,” she said.
As word has gotten out about the upcoming shows, Fialdini said people have been very appreciative that they are offering the sensory-friendly options.
“We’re excited,” she said about the upcoming shows.
Tickets for StoryBook’s sensory-friendly shows are $5. To purchase tickets, visit storybooktheater.org/sensory. To purchase tickets to StoryBook’s other performances, visit storybooktheater.org/tickets.