Education students support sensory friendly theatre


colored lights reflecting on pair of hands

Slippery Rock University special education majors will help stage a sensory-friendly presentation of “The Giver” May 21 at Pittsburgh's New Hazlett Theater.

May 13, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - For many families, going to the theatre is an enjoyable way to spend quality time together. However, for some children, especially those on the autism spectrum, the theatre's loud sounds and darkness can be a frightening experience.

To make it easier for patrons with cognitive and physical disabilities to enjoy the experience, 21 Slippery Rock University special education majors will join forces with Pittsburgh's New Hazlett Theatre to help stage a sensory-friendly production of "The Giver" May 21. Sensory theatre adapts performances to meet the special needs of audience members.

Vaughn Bicehouse


Students will provide flashlights, pillows, coloring books and earplugs to children. They will escort families in and out of the theatre and staff a "quiet room" for children who need a "time out" during the performance.

"This sensory play will give families and those with autism the ability to go out and enjoy a performance they normally would not be able to see," said Kelly Lane, a special education major from New Brighton who has a sister with autism. "Those with autism usually cannot sit through a performance without getting up to leave or being overwhelmed by sensory things like lights and sounds."

"The Giver," presented by the Prime Stage Theatre, will be presented May 13-22. The play, an adaptation by Eric Coble of Lois Lowry's novel, focuses on 12-year-old Jonas as he discovers his gifts and purpose with the aid of 'The Giver.'

For the 1 p.m., May 21, presentation, SRU students will also provide weighted blankets, CD players with calming music, pretzel sticks and water bottles.

"This play will allow them to enjoy a production, be able to get up and leave to a quiet room or sensory room, which we are providing, or grab a snack to get their focus back again," Lane said. "A lot of those with autism do not ever get this opportunity, and I think it is a great experience for all involved."

Lane said she got involved because she hopes to grow as an educator and advocate for individuals with disabilities.

"I also wanted to learn more about sensory issues and what ways we have to help those with autism or those with hyper sensitivity," she said.

Vaughn Bicehouse, assistant professor of special education, is leading the project.

Bicehouse said students have gone above and beyond in their efforts to provide sensory activities that correspond with "The Giver." Students will have children touch sample snow and are creating storyboard picture books following events of the play.

The Hazlett Theater has asked SRU students to plan and implement the entire sensory component of "The Giver" next year.

"Our students have done an amazing job," Bicehouse said. "They're helping to train actors and learning about sensory-friendly theatre."

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