Last month I had the pleasure of attending my first autism-friendly performance. I was aware that all front-of-house staff had taken part in autism training, quiet spaces were pointed out as I entered the theatre, and the cast introduced themselves before the show began. But nothing about the production felt unusual, toned down or in any way lacking. I was utterly engrossed in the story.
It wasn’t until the interval that my colleague, Craig, told me about the small but significant adaptations he had suggested after watching rehearsals, and which the director and cast had happily taken on board in order to ensure the show could be enjoyed by an autistic audience.
Craig is the National Autistic Society Scotland’s autism-friendly coordinator. He works with a wide variety of organisations to help them understand autism and make changes to the way they operate in order to be more accessible to autistic people. In the last month, he has supported The Lyceum, the National Theatre of Scotland and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
The autism-friendly performance I was lucky enough to attend was the critically acclaimed Local Hero, playing at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre.
After the show, a couple wrote to The Lyceum to say how much they enjoyed Local Hero and that they had simply not felt able to attend the theatre before. Knowing that the performance was autism-friendly made them feel comfortable and confident that they could relax and enjoy themselves.
Some of the adaptations – which I didn’t notice but would have made a huge difference to the autistic people in the audience – were the removal of a disco ball lighting effect during a party scene, lighter foot stamping during dance numbers, and a softer sound effect when a helicopter appeared onstage.