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NGCV lead the way with relaxed performances

9th February 2015

NGCV partners are leading the way in providing cultural experiences for people with an Autistic Spectrum Condition, learning disability or sensory and communication disorders.

Newcastle Theatre Royal, Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books Northern Stage, Sage Gateshead and Tyneside Cinema have all introduced pioneering relaxed performances, which improve the audiences’ enjoyment of a show by providing an informal and supportive atmosphere.

Designed to reduce anxiety levels and make the experience an enjoyable and memorable one, relaxed performances often alter lighting and special effects as well as reduce very loud noises. The overall content of the show remains the same.

2015 marks the second year the Newcastle Theatre Royal has developed a relaxed performance of its record-breaking pantomime. They have proved so popular two more relaxed performances have been announced for 2015/16, Shrek The Musical (Tuesday 24 March 2015) and Dick Whittington (Tuesday 12 January 2016).

Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books ran relaxed Santa sessions this season and a relaxed Sing-A-Long Frozen. Seven Stories is working with partners including the National Autistic Society and St Oswald's Hospice Children's Service so regular relaxed performances can be introduced across its core programming.

Northern Stage is another NGCV partner to embrace relaxed performances having introduced them for the under 6s Christmas shows Tallest Tales from the Furthest Forest (2013) and The Christmas Grump (2014). Thanks to this positive experience, Northern Stage plans to extend relaxed performances in 2015 to its over 7s Christmas show, The Wizard of Oz.

In July 2014, Sage Gateshead presented its first relaxed performance as part of the 2014 Festival of Youth Orchestras. ‘Relaxed Classics’ was performed by the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Jac van Steen and presented by Clarence Adoo, Sage Gateshead’s Orchestral Animateur. Clarence gave simple introductions to appropriate excerpts of pieces by the orchestra (including music by Painter, Strauss and Berlioz) and the audience was able to move around, made noise and generally ignore the perceived etiquette of orchestral concerts. The performance was also streamed inside the Northern Rock Foundation Hall for people uncomfortable in the main hall.

Tyneside Cinema piloted a scheme called Access Cinema in 2012 that provided relaxed screenings of family films and additional facilities for families with children with disabilities. As part of the project the Cinema prioritised taking a considered approach to staff training, making sure that the team on duty could cater for any customer need or requirement. The programme was a great success and Tyneside Cinema is looking to relaunch Access Cinema in 2015.

Dawn Taylor, director of operations at the Newcastle Theatre Royal, said: “Opening up a conversation with our audiences around relaxed performances and providing an environment for people with an autistic spectrum condition to enjoy coming to the theatre has been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on.

“Staff at every level of the organisation have been involved in the process and that’s reflected in the quality of the experience. A number of staff, myself included, are trained in Autism Awareness and we’re continuing to develop new ways to improve the theatre experience for people with an autistic spectrum condition, learning disability or sensory and communication disorder.”

One of the ways the Theatre does this is through familiarisation visits and the Newcastle Theatre Royal Visual Story – a book that explains every aspect of a visit to the Theatre, from booking tickets, watching the performance and even enjoying an ice cream at the interval.

The National Autistic Society has hailed Newcastle Theatre Royal’s commitment to developing performances that give those who otherwise might feel excluded, the chance to experience live theatre.

Philip Bernays, Chief Executive of Newcastle Theatre Royal said: “Everyone should have the opportunity to experience coming to the theatre. Working on this project has reinforced how special that experience can be.”

NGCV is looking to share its experiences and good practice across the arts and cultural sector to expand experiences for people with an Autistic Spectrum Condition, learning disability or sensory and communication disorder.

For more information about relaxed performances at NGCV venues, please visit the individual venue websites (click here to link to our members’ websites).