By Nancy Lanthier
Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the NIght-Time has received great reviews, including by BC Alliance’s executive director Brenda Leadlay, who attended its opening night performance, and told me she was much impressed with the show’s innovative storytelling.
At the centre of the story is a 15-year-old with Autism. Unfortunately, most people who share this condition are unlikely to ever see a stage show about someone like them.
But on September 30, the Arts Club will present a relaxed performance of the play, designed to welcome people with Autism, learning or intellectual disabilities, parents with infants and toddlers and others, who could benefit from a less restrictive theatre environment. Relaxed performances offer a more casual approach to noise and movement within the theatre space. Audience members can walk around, and enter and exit the theatre whenever they want. Relaxed performances also take into consideration a show’s bright, harsh, or strobe lighting or loud, unexpected sounds; The Curious Incident doesn’t feature these, but if if did, they would be muted.
Another consideration for relaxed performance audiences is theatre accessibility. How will wheelchairs be accommodated? Where are the theatre’s exit doors? Where is parking? The Arts Club has created an online “Visual Story” guide for this performance with detailed information about the theatre and what to expect during the show itself. In addition, familiarization tours will be available upon request for those who may experience anxiety in new or unfamiliar spaces.
According to the Globe and Mail, relaxed performances are still uncommon. In Canada, they’ve been offered at just a handful of theatres. The reporter attended a relaxed show at Toronto’ Theatre Pass Murielle in May. The biggest difference between it and the same one seen earlier, “was my own expectations. When a latecomer came in 20 minutes after the show had begun and sat down next to me, it was much less distracting than it normally would have been.”
The arts should be available to everyone and offering relaxed performances is an effective and achievable step towards full inclusion and access. Theatre companies looking to understand what it takes to implement a more accessible environment for audience members can start by checking out Arts Club’s Visual Story for the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.