A Magical Matinee

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Theatre in the Park presents a sensory-friendly production of A Charlie Brown Christmas

There are few things more magical than a family visit to the theater. But it can be difficult to navigate the noise and spectacle of a live performance with a child on the autism spectrum— especially during the commotion of the holidays, which can be a whirl of bright lights, loud music and unfamiliar experiences.

This year, parents and caretakers have an opportunity to attend a show that caters to individuals with sensory needs, with a special sensory-friendly performance of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on Saturday, Dec. 9 at 11 a.m. at Theatre in the Park.

“In the past few years, theater communities around the country have begun to host sensory-friendly performances as a way to include all families and theater-goers,” says Tiffany Mallory, a community volunteer with Theatre in the Park. “We thought ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ was the perfect show to introduce this to our supporters and all families in the Triangle area.”

During the show, a designated section of the lobby will serve as a quiet area for children and parents who may need to leave their seats. To address sensitivities to light and sound, the stage lights and volume will be adjusted for the performance. Trained on-site volunteers will be on hand to assist families upon arrival at the show and throughout the performance. A downloadable information sheet will be available with detailed instructions and character comparisons for parents and caregivers to view and print at home; it will outline, in words and pictures, the experience that families can expect during their visit to see the show.

“Slight adjustments will be made to the production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” such as lower overall volume and fewer loud noises and flashing lights that could be challenging to some audience members,” says Brent Simpson, Theatre in the Park’s managing director. “In addition, designated areas of Theatre in the Park will help make the experience safer and more enjoyable for those with autism and other sensitivity issues.”

The show’s actors are preparing ahead of time for the special show and learning more about what to expect from the audience, like more movement and some outbursts. They will have a better view of the audience than usual, as the house lights will be on and dimmed to 40 percent. Mallory will coach the cast based on training she received through the Theatre Development Fund, a not-for-profit organization that works to make theater more accessible for all. She and Simpson will also attend training through Arts Access, a North Carolina nonprofit that aims to increase access to the arts community.

“We are thrilled to be presenting this and have greatly appreciated the community support,” says Mallory. “We are so happy to be offering this relaxed, welcoming theatre experience to all families.”

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” follows the classic 1965 television special, based on the popular “Peanuts” comic strip by Charles M. Schulz. Charlie Brown, unhappy with the commercialization of the holidays, grapples with the meaning of the season. He directs the school’s Christmas pageant—an aggravating experience, in true Charlie Brown style—and gives a forlorn little Christmas tree a home.

The show will run Dec. 1-10, but the Dec. 9 matinee performance has been designated as sensory-friendly. The theater’s staff and cast members hope that this special performance is the first of many to come.

“All are welcome,” says Simpson. “There will be some movement and noise, and we want all families to understand that this is acceptable and welcomed. We want them to come enjoy a day at the theater, which may be normally be challenging and we hope to be able to provide many more experiences like this in the future.”

Theatre in the Park is an indoor black box theater located at the northern end of Pullen Park, near the NC State University campus. All performances are wheelchair accessible and parking is free. For more information, visit theatreinthepark.com.

Cameron Walker

Cameron Walker

Cameron Walker is a writer, mother and Raleigh native. She earned her B.A. in communication studies from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and her M.A. in the same from the University of Southern Indiana. She loves research, rainy days and sharing her favorite recipes on her blog, HoneysuckleAfternoons.com. Cameron is a writer with the College of Textiles at NC State.
Cameron Walker

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