SRU teams with Prime Stage Theatre to produce sensory-friendly show
Slippery Rock University students are collaborating with Prime Stage Theatre to produce a sensory-friendly performance of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” May 13 at the New Hazlett Theater in Pittsburgh.
May 4, 2017
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - A group representing Slippery Rock University is organizing an event to bring the arts to people with autism and other sensitivity or special needs.
Led by two early childhood/special education majors, SRU is collaborating with Prime Stage Theatre to produce a sensory-friendly theater performance of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" at 1 p.m., May 13 at the New Hazlett Theater in Pittsburgh.
The play is a coming-of-age story set in Pittsburgh about Charlie, an observant "wallflower," who charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood.
Through consultation with a University planning committee comprised of approximately 30 freshmen and sophomore volunteers from SRU's Low Incidence Disabilities special education class, Prime Stage Theatre will modify its script, lighting and audio to address the sensitivities of audience members with special needs. Additionally, SRU students will provide resources to make the experience more accommodating, including materials that will inform attendees of what to expect throughout the production, a quiet room, a sensory room, sugar-free and gluten-free snacks and manipulatives, such as stress balls.
Lauren Michaels, a sophomore early childhood/special education major from Pittsburgh, who is co-chairing the planning committee with Kelly Lane, a junior early childhood/special education major from New Brighton, was able to secure donated resources through her mother, Tricia, an occupational therapist with the Watson Institute in Sewickley.
"It's really important to have kids on the autism spectrum develop socially appropriate behaviors," Michaels said. "This gives them a great opportunity to demonstrate progress that they've made and show their families what they can do. These kids don't get to attend a lot plays and other events that are specifically designed for them and opening that door is huge."
The committee reached out to group homes and other caregivers and agencies to attract an audience to an environment that is accepting and accommodating to those on the autism spectrum.
"It gives the families a chance to meet and reach out to each other and make some connections by sharing ideas," Michaels said. "Nothing is solved about the autism spectrum so far and if we can get together and talk about it, we can make a huge difference."
The relationship between SRU and Prime Stage Theatre was forged in part by the relationship between Vaughn Bicehouse, SRU assistant professor of special education, and Wayne Brinda, Prime Stage Theatre's co-founder and producing artistic director, who were former colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh. Last year, SRU assisted with a sensory-friendly performance of Prime Stage's "The Giver," and together the entities are making enhancements with hopes of attracting a wider audience.
"It's very ground-breaking, especially for small theaters," Bicehouse said. "No one has really thought this population would enjoy these shows or to make them sensory-friendly. It's exciting that we're giving people with varied disabilities the opportunity to have this experience that many would never have."
The experience also benefits SRU students, many of whom will be applying what they are learned in the classroom with with one-on-one interactions for the first time. For Michaels and Lane, however, this is their second year leading the event.
"They are outstanding students. I've sat back and let them take the reins," Bicehouse said. "It's just an incredible experience. It's experiential learning (for the students), but we can pass off our ideas to help others."
For ticket information, visit the Prime Stage website at: www.primestage.com.
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