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What is a relaxed performance?

Kitty Underwood

By Kitty Underwood First Published 12 February 2020, Last Updated 23 April 2020

All around the country, theatres put on accessible performances for different people with different needs. The ones that might spring first to mind are captioned and signed performances for those who are hard of hearing, or audio described performances for those with visual impairments. But have you heard of relaxed performances?

A relaxed performance is a show that’s been adapted to suit people who might require a more relaxed environment when going to the theatre. Usually, these are adults or children with learning difficulties, autism or sensory communication disorders.

People with conditions like these can find standard theatre performances overwhelming or unpleasant. Common triggers are darkness, loud music, sudden noises and a generally unfamiliar environment in which you’re expected to sit still and quiet for a long time.

To make theatre more accessible to people who might struggle with these aspects, shows will put on a relaxed performance. These do vary slightly from theatre to theatre, but share common themes.

Some technical changes may have been made to the performance – this can include quieter music, reducing loud or surprising sound effects and avoiding strobe lighting.

The atmosphere is exactly that – relaxed! The lights aren’t turned off and sometimes aren’t even dimmed. Theatres will often provide a ‘chill-out’ area for people to visit if the experience becomes overwhelming. Generally, people are allowed to enter and leave the auditorium freely, and there is an open attitude towards audience noise and movement.

Some theatres will also provide a social story of the theatregoing experience. Social stories are short and simple descriptions of an experience that explain what to expect in a situation and why, often with photos. These can reduce the stress of theatregoing and help people understand what is going to happen next.

Mousetrap Theatre Projects is a charity that strives to open the doors to London theatre for those who might not otherwise have the access or opportunity. As part of this they currently facilitate one or two relaxed performances a year, depending on funding available, to top West End shows.

They buy out the house and re-price the tickets to just £3 to £20, making it as affordable as possible, and work with venues and producers to make the necessary adjustments. The most recent of these was a relaxed performance of School Of Rock last month.

We sent Sarah to see the show with her family, and she’s written a short piece for us about her experience:

My husband and I have a large family with 6 children between us; my eldest son Joshua is 23 and has Autism and learning difficulties and loves going out, however finding things to do that are suitable for us as a family can prove tricky!

Joshua loves music and shows but can sometimes find things a bit overwhelming, especially loud noises, crowds or things he perceives as scary (often they are not scary at all), and this can cause distress to him and those around him. In the past this has made going to see theatre shows difficult.

Earlier this week we were lucky enough to have tickets to The School of Rock relaxed performance through Mousetrap Theatre Projects, the chance to enjoy a West End theatre show in a more relaxed environment.

When we arrived, staff were waiting to greet us and couldn’t have been friendlier to everyone. Before the show began members of the cast came on stage to introduce themselves and their characters, so no surprises later, and they encouraged the audience to interact and join in.

During the performance adjustments are made to the sound and lighting, but for our family the real bonus was that all the usual theatre going rules were out the window.

It didn’t matter when Joshua desperately need to tell me, quite loudly, about what great value the program was, when he had to put his fingers in his ears and start humming to himself to block out noises or when he put his hood up and hid himself in the corner of his seat.

The whole theatre was full of families who otherwise may not have been able to attend a theatre and the children and young people were able to enjoy this amazing show in a totally non-judgemental environment!

You can find out more about Mousetrap Theatre Projects here, and find out more about their relaxed performances here.

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