In February this year, The Esplanade debuted its first sensory-friendly performance for children with special needs. This month, it presents its second, Grandpa Cherry Blossom, with three shows specially for children with special needs.
This heartwarming adaptation of a popular Japanese folktale tells the story of Grandpa and his little dog Shiro, who can sniff out gold! Unfortunately, Grandpa’s greedy neighbour finds out about Shiro’s gift and wants the dog (and the gold) all to himself.
“Many often perceive the theatre to be a space that needs to be quiet and full of “house rules”, and therefore, not conducive for children with special needs,” says Ms Luanne Poh, Producer at The Esplanade Co Ltd.
“By introducing sensory-friendly performances, we hope to open more doors for carers of children with special needs. The aim is to create a friendly and welcoming environment for this community to come into the theatre. Through these performances, we want to provide an arts experience that offers a friendly and supportive environment for children with special needs, of all ages and abilities,” she adds.
This is not a new initiative for The Esplanade. Through the years it has welcomed audiences with special needs at various Esplanade performances, including the Feed Your Imagination (F.Y.I) series where two complimentary teacher tickets are offered for every 10 student tickets purchased per performance for Special Education (SPED) schools. The Esplanade has also presented performances by students from SPED Schools during our annual festival Octoburst! – A Children’s Festival.
The response has been very heartwarming. The children would laugh heartily and clap loudly during the performance. Some of them would even jump up enthusiastically and the care-givers would not have to worry about them “disturbing” other patrons. In actual fact, our PLAYtime! audiences (typically between two to four years old) behave just the same. For the sensory-friendly performances, we see slightly older children and it is often their first theatre experience. It just levels out the playing field for everyone to access theatre.
The objective, Luanne tells us, is to create an environment “where people with autism or sensory needs, along with their families, can enjoy coming to the theatre together and will feel comfortable, supported and free to be themselves. Another of our long-term objectives of introducing sensory-friendly performances at Esplanade is also to promote mutual understanding of the different needs in our community.”
The response has been encouraging, Luanne adds. “When we engaged with parents, educators, therapists, and parents of children with special needs, everyone was very forthcoming to share their knowledge and experience with us to help us to prepare for the sensory-friendly production.”
So if you’ve been avoiding the theatre because you’re afraid that your child may not be able to sit still, stay quiet, and focus on the show, don’t. The upcoming sensory-friendly performances of Grandpa Cherry Blossom at The Esplanade — on 15 and 16 May — could be just the ticket to giving your child a welcoming introduction to the arts.
Sensory-Friendly Adjustments that make shows more accessible for Children with Special Needs
While the artistic presentation of the show does not change, adjustments are made to house rules, the front of house experience, and the environment within the theatre (sound and lighting effects of the show are adjusted), and done more to prepare parents, carers, or teachers for the performance.
• Prior to the sensory-friendly performances, parents, carers, or teachers will have access to pre-show resource materials (commonly referred to as social stories) to help them prepare the child for what to expect during their visit to Esplanade.
• The performances will feature a generally brighter environment, with no total blackouts, and no sudden loud sounds.
• Relaxed “house rules” where anyone who may need to get up, move around or leave the theatre during the performances will have free and easy access to do so.
• Instead of the regular pre-recorded voiceover announcements at the beginning of each show, actors introduce themselves and the characters that they play.
• Pre-show visits to the schools where images of the production and the characters in costumes are shown to the students and made available online for parents. “It does give away a little bit of the mystery when we show all the puppets and props before the theatrical experience itself but we find that it helps allay any anxiety the children might have.”
• Audiences do not have to be completely quiet during the performance. Volunteers are available throughout the performance to help if required. A Quiet Room (at PIP’s PLAYbox, the Esplanade’s newly opened dedicated space for children located next to the performance venue) is available with sensory-friendly toys for anyone who needs a break from the performance.
Need to know:
PLAYtime! is produced and presented by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. Grandpa Cherry Blossom is directed by Singapore director and NAC Young Artist Award recipient Ian Loy from MySuperFuture Theatrical Productions.
Dates 6 – 21 May 2016, Fri – Sat (No shows on 11 & 18 May, Wed).
Weekday timings: 9.30am & 11am.
Weekend timings: 11am & 4pm
15 May, Sun, 11am &
16 May, Mon, 11am & 2.30pm
Where Esplanade Theatre Studio
Standard Ticket: $18
Package of 4: $64
Available at the Esplanade Box Office and SISTIC authorised agents. SISTIC hotline: 6348 5555. Tickets are required for all patrons (including infants-in-arm). Full ticketing details at www.sistic.com. Terms and conditions apply.
Length of performance: 40 mins. Audience will be seated on the floor.