By Maya Kleinsorge
With the upcoming Sensory-Friendly Performance (SFP) of Junie B. Jones coming to the Pasant Theater April 28, I sat down with the manager of musical theatre programs, Kelly Stuible-Clark, who leads our SFP program here at Wharton Center. We talked about shows ranging from Act One Family shows (Junie B. Jones, specifically) to Broadway-scale environments.
Maya: What does the Sensory-Friendly Performance look like at Wharton Center, and why is it special to us?
Kelly: We offer a modified experience for patrons who have sensory-processing issues – anyone who might need or like an accommodation. The performance is presented with one lighting look and no startling effects; theatre rules are relaxed, and devices are allowed in, noise-cancelling head phones, etc. Alternate, quieter spaces are offered, to allow escape if feelings become overwhelming. We understand having that environment is important, and we encourage the greater audience to understand some people don’t have the capability to sit through a 90-minute show without moving or standing up. It’s part accommodation for specific patrons, and part education for neurotypical patrons in the audience.
What kind of response have we had from SFP audiences?
Response thus far has been positive. When we presented the SFP of The Lion King, we hosted almost 1,400 patrons – with a diverse population of special needs folks. We have worked closely with the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau (GLCVB) and the Autism Association of Mid-Michigan to expand the idea of sensory-friendly accessibility to venues across Michigan: theatres, museums, Potter Park Zoo, Cooley Law School Stadium. However, no other space has capacity like Wharton Center to bring these opportunities to the Lansing area.
Why did we choose Junie B. Jones in particular?
Junie B. Jones is presented with a wonderful touring organization that creates theatre for families and young audiences called TheaterWorksUSA. Their work is equal parts high energy and fun and, combined with the popular title Junie B. Jones, it’s a good starting point for neuro-diverse families to participate. Additionally, TheaterWorks is very accommodating about making changes to the production for accessibility. So, the decision was easy.
Has any particular patron feedback stood out to you or inspired you as a leader/educator in the arts?
We’ve received feedback saying, “We have never been able to come to a show as a family before,” and “I appreciate coming to this because I don’t feel like I have to change the person I’m taking care of.” It’s that sense of community and comfort that I, being neurotypical, often take for granted. The welcoming environment has colored my views as an administrator and an educator.
For those who weren’t born into the Junie B. Jones generation, I am proud to say I read every book that I could get my hands on. I truly learned to read from Barbara Park and her stories of the adventurous and mischievous soon-to-be first-grader. Spark a child’s interest in reading and in the arts with this vivacious, joyous musical.