Ballet Company to Host Sensory-Friendly Performance of 'The Nutcracker'

Dec 22, 2014

For those with sensory sensitivities or autism spectrum disorder, a night out at the theater might seem impossible.

But this holiday season, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is hosting its second sensory-friendly production of "The Nutcracker," making the performance and venue more accessible.

The showing, which will be held at the Benedum Center on Dec. 23, will tailor to audience members who have special needs by modifying the environment. Accommodations include light and sound adjustments, break areas in the lobby and relaxed house rules so patrons don’t have to sit in their seats the whole time.

“This performance was designed for people with sensory sensitivities who process things differently than most of us,” said Alyssa Herzog Melby, director of education and community engagement at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. “That might mean they have to get up and move around or vocalize, and that’s completely fine and acceptable in this environment.”

The troupe became the first professional ballet company in the country to perform a sensory-friendly production of "The Nutcracker" last December. It was an “absolute success,” Melby said, which influenced the group to continue the specialized showings.

Sensory-friendly environments were first instituted in museums in the mid-2000s, according to Melby. The phenomenon hit Broadway in 2011 with several unique performances.

“More and more theaters around the country are really latching onto this idea of providing accommodations for people with sensory sensitivities,” Melby said.

Patrons and their families can prepare for the performance beforehand by reading one of the theater’s pre-visit guides, which visually demonstrate what it’s going to be like come show time.

“We have a pre-visit guide for going to the Benedum Center, such as, ‘I will need to show the usher my ticket. I will have my ticket scanned. I will see drinking fountains. These are what the restrooms look like,’” Melby said.

The PBT is also offering a sensory-friendly performance of "Beauty and the Beast" Feb. 13.