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Arts Access at FAC: Relaxed Performances

Wednesday 10 June 2020

Relaxed performances at Frankston Arts Centre

Relaxed Performances are suitable for patrons with autism spectrum conditions, sensory, communication or learning disabilities.

At the FAC, we run a number of programs under the banner of Arts Access to ensure people of all ages, abilities and circumstances are welcome to enjoy a theatre show. We spoke with Bec Fernando, our Team Leader Ticketing Services, who is also a mum to two beautiful young kids who she takes to the theatre often to learn more about what makes Relaxed Performances suitable for patrons with autism spectrum conditions, sensory, communication or learning disabilities.

What are the benefits of attending a relaxed performance?

Relaxed performances are an incredible way for families to experience and enjoy live theatre together. This is often for the very first time! A relaxed performance aims to reduce the sensory extremes often experienced with a stage production, to make it easier and more accessible for people who are sensitive to sensory inputs. At our theatre, that can involve reducing the brightness of stage lights and the level of the sound from the sound system. We also keep the auditorium house lights up slightly, so the seating area isn’t in complete blackout.

How else is the venue adapted to make the experience of a trip to the theatre more relaxed?

We try to reduce queues and the feeling of being rushed, so families can enter the auditorium at their own pace. A quiet break out space is available where you can still view the performance on a screen if you need to take a break from the theatre environment.

Staff and audience members at a relaxed performance are just that – relaxed!

What should you expect at a Relaxed Performance?

There are many ways audience members might show that they are enjoying the relaxed performance. This might be by clapping or singing along, or rocking or swaying, or needing to pop into the aisle to go for a little pace around. They might need to wear their headphones or have a screen with them and just peek at the stage every now and then. At a relaxed performance, everyone is encouraged to enjoy the performance in his or her own way.

Pricing for relaxed performances is also often very reasonable, so the financial risk is much less and can be used as a great practise space for families who want to make live theatre an ongoing part of their family traditions.

Sometimes in a family where one member, usually a child, has sensory sensitivities or anxiety in busy or new places, the whole family is affected. Siblings can miss out on fun experiences because they are not suitable for the whole family. On some occasions, children get excited about going somewhere special only to find it is cancelled, or they have to leave early because of unexpected queues or loud music or announcements that are intolerable for their sibling.

Relaxed performances aim to bring families together to experience something special in a way that is accessible to all members of the family. Parents don’t need to feel anxious about trying to keep their children still and quiet, and children can freely enjoy, or start learning to enjoy, the magic of live theatre performances.

What happens if my child is noisy or feels uncomfortable during the performance?

At a Relaxed Performance, everyone expects a bit of audience noise - it is part of the experience. If your child feels like swaying or rocking to help feel calm, or singing along to every song on stage, then we are thrilled that they are having a good time.

If your child feels overwhelmed and needs a break from the theatre environment, you are welcome to make yourself comfortable in the breakout space just off the foyer. There will be a screen with a live feed of the show so you don’t miss what is happening on stage. The beanbags and reduced volume levels might help everyone to feel a bit calmer, or give a bit more space to stretch out or move around if that is what they need.

You are welcome and encouraged to re-enter the theatre at any stage if you’d like, so don’t feel like you have left for good if you need a bit of a break. Ask our friendly staff if you have something specific that could help you enjoy the performance even more.

Should I do anything to prepare my kids before a relaxed performance?

For my family, and others with children with additional needs, familiarity and preparation is important when going on an outing.

Frankston Arts Centre has a great social story that you can read together and look at the pictures to feel comfortable knowing what the foyer will look like, what the theatre will look like, and the order that things might happen in.

Our family often does ‘drive by’ visits to new places before an actual outing. Casually popping past and pointing out the building and the entrance and what we are going to do there and when, makes our child with anxiety slightly less fearful on the day.  

If the relaxed performance is based on a particular book or musical artist, try to familiarise your family with the material before the performance day. Pop the soundtrack on Spotify in the car or read the book together where possible to give a sense of security and interest in the subject of the show.

In terms of seating, I always pre-book tickets and aim to get seating near or on an aisle just in case we need to pop out at any time. Having E-tickets sent to your email (which you can save to your phone or print out) means you can skip waiting at the Box Office altogether. The less queuing the better, so maybe pack some special snacks in case the line for the bar is a bit too long.

Also, have a think about the possibility that merchandise might be available at the show. Buying merchandise could be a lovely way to have a keepsake from the show if it has been successful for you, or you might like to have a chat to your children about popping to the library or playground after the show instead if this is something you would prefer not to partake in. Again, being prepared can make the whole experience much more enjoyable.

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