Families with loved ones diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, cognitive and physical challenges, or other sensory sensitivities will soon be able to enjoy performances at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts that are specifically adapted to meet their needs.

The Tobin will host its first ever sensory-friendly performance on Monday, Sept. 26 at 11 a.m. in the H-E-B Performance Hall, featuring the Parsons Dance Company, a New York City-based modern dance company internationally recognized for creating and performing contemporary American dance. The company is known for its energizing, athletic, ensemble choreography and was founded back in 1985 by artistic director David Parsons and Tony Award-winning lighting designer Howell Binkley.

Tickets, which are $15 and $20, can be purchased online here, via phone at (210) 223-8624, or in-person at the Tobin Center’s Box Office at 100 Auditorium Circle.

The Tobin has developed a full-circle experience for the family-friendly event in September. Those attending the performance can access a sensory-friendly map of the venue here, as well as a social narrative developed for the performance here.

“We are actively finding ways to invite the entire community to the Tobin, with programming that is accessible for the entire community,” said Kendall Purpura, Tobin Center vice president of development.

The Tobin Center added this extra performance by the Parsons Dance Company once they discovered that the dance company had already designed a modified performance to accommodate the sensory challenges of the audience.

“Certain elements surrounding the performance will be modified,” said Sarah Saenz, Tobin education coordinator. “The sound level will be lower to avoid loud or potentially frightening sounds. The theater lights will be left on, but at a low level during the entire performance. There will be no strobe lights and patrons will be free to talk throughout the event.”

The integrity of the performance will remain the same, but modifying certain elements for this specific show allows those on the autism spectrum to more comfortably enjoy the special offering.

“The Tobin Center has a flexible floor system, so we are going to leave a space open down in the front to provide a buffer between the seated audience and the stage,” Purpura said. “If audience members feel confined in their seat, they can come down to that open space and dance if they like.”

Patrons can leave at any time during the performance if they need to, Saenz added, and won’t have to wait for intermission. “We will also have designated quiet areas within the theater, staffed with autism specialists,” she said.

The Tobin Center has been exploring ways to ensure its programming is accessible to all members of the community. In the course of working with the Theatre Development Fund (TDF), the Tobin discovered the fund’s Theatre Autism Initiative, part of its comprehensive theater accessibility program. The Theatre Autism Initiative makes theatre accessible to adults and children on the autism spectrum, and has presented a number of autism-friendly Broadway performances including The Lion King, Mary Poppins, and Wicked.

The special performance featuring the Parsons Dance Company is just the beginning of the Tobin Center’s initiative to offer such programming.

“We’re training our staff and volunteers on how to manage the modifications for our audience for this sensory-friendly performance,” Purpura said. “Our long term plans are to accommodate all patrons under an ‘umbrella of access.’ The Tobin is building its own accessibility program by starting with offering sensory-friendly performances.”

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Top Image: The Tobin Center will offer a sensory friendly performance by the Parsons Dance Company. Photo credit: Parsons Dance Company.

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Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science, and veteran affairs. She won the Texas Veterans Commission Media Excellence Awards for her 2016 Veterans Day story "Life as a Veteran: What Veterans...