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Relaxed performances scheme set for expansion

Cast with audience members from Theatre By The Lake's recent relaxed performance of See How They Run, which was part of the Relaxed Performance Pilot Project. Photo: Steven Barber
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Organisers of a nationwide scheme staging ‘relaxed’performances of shows including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Lion King have announced plans to expand the initiative.

All eight venues that took part in the Relaxed Performance Pilot Project – in which shows were adapted for families with children who have autistic, sensory and communication needs or learning disabilities – have now adopted a policy to stage relaxed performances on a regular basis.

Organisations including the National Theatre, the Unicorn Theatre and Ambassador Theatre Group have committed to at least one relaxed performance a year for each of their main productions.

Meanwhile, there are proposals to extend the project to other art forms – such as dance and music concerts – as well as to international venues.

A toolkit is being developed, which will include a step-by-step guide on how to stage a relaxed performance, and will be available to download from next month. It will be promoted across the UK and abroad.

Jeremy Newton, chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, which was a co-organiser of the project along with the Society of London Theatre and the Theatrical Management Association, said there was a lot of interest in the project.

“The exciting thing is there are a great deal of theatre and performance groups around the country catching the idea and realising it’s not an overly complicated thing to do,” he said. “It brings people into performances who have not been before, so there’s an economic as much as a moral case for this kind of activity.”

He said that the scheme, which was developed with charities such as the National Autistic Society and Mencap, provided valuable lessons around staff training and technical requirements that will now be included in the toolkit.

“The technical bit is an area we learnt most about as we went along. In terms of the need for and ability to adapt sound and lighting levels, that’s quite subtle, but was something the technicians responded to. They felt they had more control over the impact of the performance on the audience than on other nights,” said Newton.

He added: “Within a few years, I’d like to see this as not being unusual or special, but something you see every time you pick up a flyer for the next season at a theatre.”

The toolkit will be available on both the TMA and Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts websites.