By Dayna Harpster
Southwest Spotlight Magazine
Typical audience behavior won’t be required at this production.
Audiences arrive for a performance with certain common expectations. The theater may be full. It will be dark. They are expected to be quiet and remain seated. Those can be daunting or even impossible demands for someone with a sensory processing disorder, which may occur in people on the autism spectrum or those with Down syndrome or other conditions. Children, and some adults, with a sensory processing disorder have trouble receiving and responding to information from the five senses. They may be oversensitive to sights, sounds, smells, taste or touch, or they may under-react to those messages, but both results are disturbing to the child and usually prohibit families from attending productions together.
But the Naples Players has a holiday gift for these people and their families in the form of a sensory-friendly production of “Miracle on 34th Street.” Together with a program that teaches acting skills to kids with the disorder, it’s evidence of a new focus on this population by the Naples Players and Artistic Director Bryce Alexander. Early this year, Alexander hired Craig Price, well-known in local theater circles, as education director in charge of sensory-friendly and other instructional programs. “Both of my kids are ‘sensory kids,’ as we like to call them,” Price said. “So we’ve had to kind of alter our lives at home, and at school, and on vacation, and everything that we do.” In the process, and building on his own years of experience in improvisation as well as advice from Naples occupational therapist Mary Fellonz and Dr. Colleen Cornwall, Price created curriculum for kids with a sensory processing disorder. Classes are held for them weekly. Emily Delgado, 14, was one of the first students in last summer’s new Acting for Autism Spectrum Disorder/Sensory Processing Disorder day camp at The Sugden Theater. “It helped her become like she was when she was a child,” explained her mom, Lisa Delgado. “As she got older she had become very with-drawn.” Like other people on the autism spectrum, Emily finds adjustment to different situations difficult, a problem temporarily worsened by the family’s move from New York to Naples last spring. “Being there with Craig, the way he does improv, really brought her out of her shell,” Delgado said.
“It’s often difficult for those with sensory processing disorder to transition from place to place, from car to store, store to car, back home,” Price said. “The games we do have given them a lot of the skills they need to do these things. We change from activity to activity. We go from the lobby downstairs interacting in a group to upstairs where it’s just us. Often we take tours of the theater and learn about all the different rooms, the jobs in the theater, and this helps them be able to transition from place to place. “The theater games I teach are verbal and nonverbal, rhythm and mirroring games where we mirror each others’ emotions with our faces,” Price said. “We even speak a language that many improv groups call gibberish,” which even a nonverbal child usually can do. Mirroring helps kids identify and react to emotions, which is often difficult for autistic children. Typical audience behavior also is often difficult for them. But it won’t be required at a sensory-friendly production of “Miracle on 34th Street” on December 12. Featuring regular adult actors from the Naples Players, the show will feature a lower sound level. Lights will remain on at a low level in the theater during the performance and there will be a reduction of strobe lighting and lighting focused on the audience. Theater-goers can talk or leave their seats and even go to designated quiet areas in the theater. The maximum audience size will be half of the theater’s capacity as well. In addition, knowledgeable staff and volunteers will be there to accommodate any audience needs.
The Naples Players will present a sensory-friendly performance of “Miracle on 34th Street” at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 12. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and educators. For tickets and more information visit naplesplayers.org or call (239) 263-7990.