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Tips for Running a Relaxed Performance of Your Show

Sensory-friendly, or “relaxed” performances of theatrical shows, are becoming more prevalent and popular for theatre-goers. A relaxed performance is where the theatrical atmosphere is adapted to better accommodate audience members who may benefit from a more relaxed environment. This may include audience members with autism or sensory processing sensitivities, audience members with disabilities, or families with babies or young children. Relaxed performances are a wonderful way for audience members who may not otherwise be able to experience live theatre to do so.

Adaptations at a relaxed performance may include:

  • Providing patrons with informational materials in advance that describe what to expect at the performance to reduce potential anxiety about the experience
  • Keeping the house lights dimmed (rather than fully out) during the performance
  • Reducing the volume of the music and/or microphones
  • Adjusting, reducing, or omitting effects that may startle theatregoers
  • Allowing audience members to get up, move around, leave and re-enter, or vocalise quietly during the performance
  • Designating a quiet area nearby for audience members who may benefit from it
  • Having additional resources available, such as closed captioning devices, noise-dampening headphones, large-print versions of the show programme, or an ASL translator

So, what do you need to do to hold a relaxed performance of your show? Here are some tips:

1. If possible, engage experts to help you, such as one in diversity, equity, and inclusion, an ASL translator, and/or a developmental services worker who can advise you on ways to accommodate patrons. You may also wish to reach out to people from various disability communities and ask them firsthand what they would most benefit from to have a great theatre experience.

2. Choose a date and time for the relaxed performance, and clearly indicate it on all your promotional materials. A matinee or a morning performance might be better for young theatregoers and parents than an evening performance.

3. Go through your show and note any potential concerns, such as special effects, loud music, or startling moments (e.g., explosions or gunshots). Think about the performances of your actors as well. A character who screeches, yells frequently, or has a grating character voice might need to be adjusted for the relaxed performance. Ask your students what moments occur in the show that they think might be an area of concern.

4. Make adjustments to your technical systems (such as reducing the lights or lowering the sound volume) ahead of time. If your technical systems allow it, pre-program a full, separate relaxed performance technical plot. This way your operators won’t have to adjust everything in the moment.

5. Explain to your students what a relaxed performance is, and the benefits of having one. Inform them of the changes you’ll make to the show for that performance, and make them aware of anything that might occur (such as vocal crowd reactions or audience members walking around and/or leaving during the performance). Performing at a relaxed performance may be a new experience for your students, and they might be thrown off by the changes.

6. If possible, do a run of the show with your students with all the relaxed performance accommodations in place ahead of time, so they aren’t surprised on the day of the performance. This is especially important if there are acting changes. Remind students that even though the volume of the performance may be slightly different, the energy, enthusiasm, pacing, and commitment must remain the same.

7. Spread the word to communities who might enjoy attending a relaxed performance (e.g., developmental education teachers, special needs companies and communities, early childhood education centres, and new parents). The more you reach out, the more audience members you’ll bring in!

8. After the performance, you may wish to reach out to your audience members and ask them what they thought about the experience. What did they like? What could you adjust for a future relaxed performance?

Have you held a relaxed performance of a show? Do you have any tips to share with the Theatrefolk community? We’d love to hear about your experiences!

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at

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