Up and Away: New Theater Production for Kids with Autism

The wondrous world of theater has the capacity to captivate children’s minds and spur their imaginations. For children with Autism, however, the bright lights and loud sounds can be unpleasant and keep these children away from the theatre.  New York’s Lincoln Center Education’s new show, “Up and Away” is changing that with a new production geared towards children with Autism.

Inspired by Jules Vernes’ classic novel Around the World in Eighty Days, “Up and Away” is designed for only eight audience members, who sit in pairs in colorful hot air balloons and follow the Fogg family along their journey. Each actor accompanies a child throughout the show, creating an interactive and personal experience. All of the actors are teaching artists who guide the young people with Autism.

In Anne Thompson’s NBC News article, the cast details their experience of being part of the show. “There’s a mantra that we’ve been using to talk about our audience which is, if you’ve met one autistic child, you’ve met one autistic child” says Peter Musante, who plays Carl Fogg. “That’s true with audiences, they’re different every time, because it is so much of a tailored experience.”

The show has a structured storyline so the children are aware of where they are traveling. It is an itinerary with a purpose, says Jonathan Chapman, the artistic director of The Trusty Sidekick Theatre Company, which created the show.

“We knew that we needed an agenda. Children on the spectrum need to know what is next and the order of things to feel safe,” Chapman said.

Aside from the structure, calming music and soft behind-screen lighting allows for a comfortable and undisturbed experience for the children with Autism. Parents can sit in the back seats of the balloons with their kids. Catherine Vinci describes the positive experience of taking her 11-year-old son to the show.

“He was locked in and participating, even how quickly he took to meeting his character and the concept of being in a balloon — going up and away — not something that he would normally do, so he was really engaged, and that’s very rare to see, him intent for so long,” Vinci said.

Executive director Russell Granet hopes this show is just the first of many created for children with autism.

“We just have to be proactive about creating the experience to make sure we celebrate difference. ‘Up and Away’ is unique in that we celebrate every child’s difference in that audience. They get to be themselves and will be celebrated for who they are.”

 

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