ATG to pilot autism-friendly pantomimes

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Ambassador Theatre Group will trial autism-friendly performances at three of its regional venues with a view to bringing similar shows to the West End.

The ‘relaxed performance’ pilot scheme will be aimed at families with children that have an autistic condition, sensory and communication disorders or a learning disability.

It will begin at the Churchill Theatre Bromley for its production of Peter Pan on December 5, starring Jennifer Ellison.

Also featuring in the series will be Lincolnshire-based Grimsby Auditorium’s performance of Cinderella on December 19 and Aladdin at Surrey’s Richmond Theatre on January 7, 2013.

ATG said that minor lighting and sound alterations will be made to each show but the overall content will not differ to other performances. There will also be a more relaxed attitude to noise in the auditorium, it said.

Audience members will receive photographs and information about the show’s story, be invited to a familiarisation meeting at the theatre and will be able to use a ‘chill-out’ area during the performance.

The National Autistic Society will give training to theatre staff as part of the scheme.

If the series is successful, ATG said it hopes to put on another ‘relaxed performance’ at a West End venue in 2013.

ATG has collaborated with the Society of London Theatre and the Theatrical Management Association as well as pantomime producers UK Productions, Principal Productions and First Family Entertainment on the three shows.

Karen Townsend, ATG’s head of learning and access, said: “These fantastic performances are part of ATG’s access delivery. As a company we already offer audio, signed and captioned performances across all our venues but we hope that the relaxed performances prove popular with our customers so that we can build them permanently into our access programme next year and beyond.”

In summer 2011, ATG came under fire after a family claimed that they were asked to leave a performance at the Apollo Victoria Theatre because their autistic son was making too much noise.

ATG responded by holding a national event to debate the issue at the end of last year.