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'The Lion King' Offers First-Ever Performance for People with Autism

By Amy Zimmer | August 17, 2011 2:29pm
Dashaun Young as Simba and Chaunteé Schuler as Nala in
Dashaun Young as Simba and Chaunteé Schuler as Nala in "The Lion King" on Broadway. The show will offer an autism-friendly performance on Oct. 2.
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Disney Theatrical Productions/Joan Marcus

MANHATTAN — Broadway is making a special effort to reach out to theatergoers with autism.

The Theatre Development Fund, the nonprofit that runs ticket-selling company TKTS, is piloting a program at Disney's blockbuster musical "The Lion King" to offer Broadway's first ever show tailored to the needs of adults and children on the autism spectrum, TDF officials announced on Wednesday.

For the Oct. 2 matinee at the Minskoff Theatre, TDF has purchased every seat in the house to sell to families with autistic members and has been working with a panel of experts to help develop the program.

The lively and colorful show will reduce volume, cut out jarring sounds or strobe lights shining on the audience. The theater's lobby will have designated quiet zones staffed with autism experts, who will be on hand for those who need to leave their seats during the performance.

"Many families with a loved one on the spectrum struggle to attend the movies or theater," Dana Marnane, Autism Speaks vice president of awareness and events, said in a statement heralding TDF's Autism Theatre Initiative.

"Creating compassionate environments for families will help to raise awareness and acceptance everywhere."

The show is already almost sold out, TDF officials said. Many tickets, which range from $38 to $79, were snatched up by local schools and members of groups that serve people with autism.

But the fund promised to show more autism-friendly performances in the future.  

"Our goal is to be as inclusive as possible, welcoming families with children and adults on the autism spectrum, including Asperger’s syndrome, to fill the theater and be assured that everyone involved with the production—from the cast, production crew and theater staff—is delighted to have the audience there," Lisa Carling, TDF's director of accessibility programs said in a statement.

"No judgments — just united support in making the theater experience as enjoyable as possible for its audience," she said.