Grafton and Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre Team Up for “Relaxed” Performance

Parents of children with behavioral health challenges know how joyful a live theatre performance can be for their kids. But it can also be a stressful experience for caregivers and a downright frightening experience for those with autism or a sensory processing disorder. The magic of the theatre can turn threatening when bright lights, loud noises, and other special effects overwhelm someone’s senses.

Grafton’s lead music therapist, Fredrica Dooley-Brown, is advising on the production of a special “relaxed” performance of Cinderella, tailored specifically to young children and those who may struggle to sit through a regular theatre show. Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre (SSMT) has partnered with Grafton to host this one-time performance on Tuesday, August 2 at 1:30 p.m., and Grafton will be providing complimentary tickets to all of its families and group home residents.

Fredrica will attend the Cinderella dress rehearsal and give specific feedback on ways to make the production a sensory-friendly environment, such as dimming the stage lighting, lowering the volume, and removing startling sounds and special effects, like fireworks. Audience members will also have the opportunity to get up and move around should they need a break.

Seating will be general admission and ticket sales will be limited to ensure at least 200 empty seats in the theatre, so families will have the freedom to sit in an area that they feel is best for their child. For added safety, all theatre staff will receive Ukeru training and have access to blocking pads, making it a trauma-informed theatre space.

This is the second time Grafton and SSMT have teamed up on a relaxed performance. In 2019, the pair presented a special performance of The Sound of Music, which was a hit with local families. Hundreds of people attended that year’s show, including about 50 Grafton clients.

“After that show, two parents said, ‘I never thought I would be able to take my kids to live theatre,’” remembers Fredrica. “They had tried before and gotten complaints from other audience members.”

Grafton provided free fidget spinner toys to help relieve anxiety during the performance, which proved beneficial for many of the children. “One of our students loved The Sound of Music, but he was very nervous, so he would go up and down the stairs, using his fidget toy and asking questions,” says Fredrica. Grafton plans to provide a similar free gift this year.

Fredrica has worked closely with SSMT’s Managing Director, Elizabeth Albert. The two began conversations surrounding a potential Relaxed Performance several years ago when they recognized the need in the community.

After a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Grafton and SSMT are excited to be putting on another relaxed performance.

“A lot of theatres around the country are beginning to offer relaxed performances,” says Elizabeth. “I’m happy that Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre can play a role in ensuring that the magic of theatre is accessible to everyone!”

Tickets will be on sale at a discounted rate of $15 per person.