At MCT, we are committed to broadening access to the performing arts, and through our annual sensory-friendly performance, we make theatre more accessible to people on the autism spectrum. Alayne Dolson, former executive director of VSA Montana, is our advisor for this important project.
Last year’s sensory- friendly performance, the Missoula Community Theatre presented an adapted performance of Seussical. We invited people of all ages who are on the autism spectrum, their families, and their caregivers to come to the MCT Center for the Performing Arts to enjoy this beloved show.
The sensory-friendly performance is a general admission / open seating show. Tickets are just $10 and are available at MCTinc.org, at the MCT box office, and by calling 406-728-PLAY (7529). Financial assistance and some complimentary tickets are available (please call the box office for more information).
The Sensory-Friendly Performance
The director carefully adapts the show without losing the essence of the story. Adapting a show entails shortening it and toning down jarring sounds, dialogue, and lighting effects. Before the performance, the director comes on stage to greet the audience and introduce the show. Two volunteers with glow sticks are stationed on either side of the stage. They wave the glow sticks to signal scene changes, unexpected noises, intermission, and when to applaud. In addition, we invite patrons to enter and exit the auditorium at will, and to encourage them to do so, we have a wonderful “cozy corner” in our lobby with a rocking chair, blankets, pillows, toys, and books.
To help theatre-goers who might not know what to expect, MCT creates a Social Story that families can access to travel step-by-step through the evening and be fully prepared for the fun to follow.
The Back Story & History
You may be curious about the origin of MCT’s sensory- friendly performance. It all started in 2011 with an email that Michael McGill, MCT’s Executive Director, received from a local mom. Here is an abridged version:
“Our family lives in Missoula and our daughter loves musicals. She has some sensory issues and is usually uncomfortable attending shows in theaters like yours and places like the Adams Center. The stress of the elevated noise level and unexpected sounds and movement usually overwhelm her, and she is unable to enjoy the show. Recently, in New York, an adapted performance of The Lion King was very successful. I was wondering whether you would consider doing this kind of modification for a show in Missoula.”
Michael did not hesitate to embrace the idea, and in January 2012, MCT presented its first adapted performance. The show was Once Upon a Mattress. We followed it up annually with Miracle on 34th Street (2013), Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka (2014), Shrek the Musical (2015), Mary Poppins (2016), The Wizard of Oz (2017), Disney’s The Little Mermaid (2018), and Disney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical (2019).
In 2016, MCT received the Arts Missoula (formerly Missoula Cultural Council) annual Cultural Vision award. We are honored to be recognized for our sensory-friendly performances, and this year, we are thrilled to continue what has become a much-cherished tradition.
Significance & Impact
The arts bring joy, beauty, creativity, transformation, insights and so much more to our lives. By staging sensory-friendly performances, we increase access for people who typically face barriers. The evening shows families with one or more members on the spectrum that attending a public performance is possible, enjoyable and a wonderful bonding experience. The significance of that experience cannot be overstated. Here are two comments from patrons:
About Once Upon A Mattress:
“I attended the sensory-friendly showing of “Once Upon a Mattress” last night with my twin 10-year old sons. I wanted to say thank you so much for this wonderful idea, and even more wonderful show. It was our first theatre experience, and WOW. Every time I looked to my left down the row, I saw smiles. One son (who is non-verbal) reached out his hand many times to “touch” what he was seeing, and one son (who is normally my energizer bunny) was completely enthralled and glued to his seat. Thank you so much. From the talented actors, to the staff who provided the pillow-corner, rocking chairs and heartfelt greetings, to the cellist in the orchestra pit that happily waved while we peered down after the show, I cannot thank you enough.”
About Miracle on 34th Street:
“My family was able to attend the sensory-friendly performance last night. Our son was very attentive for a solid 45 minutes, which is really a feat and a compliment to the cast and crew. Then he retired to the pillows in the lobby. The parade scene fascinated him, with the music and the waving flags. Our son would never be welcome at any regular theatre event, so thank you for providing this very special opportunity for our whole family to enjoy together.”