Community Living BC employee Andrea Hryciw, Wizard of Oz assistant director Astrid Varnes, stage manager Nedine Scott and her brother Brandon discuss the relaxed performance which the Wizard of Oz cast and crew will be putting it on. (Jim Elliot/ Salmon Arm Observer)

Salmon Arm theatre reduces barriers with inclusive opening of Wizard of Oz

Relaxed conventions open experience to people with autism, dementia, sensory disorders

Barb Brouwer

Contributor

People with special needs often struggle to be included in community.

With this in mind, Shuswap Theatre is offering a relaxed performance of The Wizard of Oz.

Co-director Astrid Varnes says theatre normally involves some fairly strict conventions – audience members sit down in the dark with people they don’t know, which is impossible for some people.

“We’re relaxing some of the conventions that go with the theatre experience; the performance doesn’t change, it’s the environment, the things that accompany actors that are different,” says Varnes, noting the volume will be lower, house lights will remain on, albeit lower than normal, and abrupt shifts in lights, sounds, and effects will be limited. “The big thing is that expectations are relaxed, that it’s OK to call out or stand up and leave.”

Lobby doors may be opened early to allow for a more calm, casual entry to the building and an opportunity to become familiar with exits and washrooms. As well, there will be a relief space in the lobby for those who feel overwhelmed, or who would prefer to continue watching the performance via video stream.

The date for a tour of the theatre will be set prior to the performance will be announced in order for patrons to become familiar with the building.

“One of the company members had a brother with Down syndrome who is afraid of the dark, so he had never been to one of her shows,” Varnes says. “It is so meaningful to her that her brother will be able to attend the Wizard off Oz because of the relaxed performance.”

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Andrea Hryciw, a facilitator with Community Living British Columbia, the government funding body that supports organizations like the Shuswap Association for Community Living, was a consultant for the relaxed performance.

“Inclusion in community is the goal,” she says. “It makes their world a little big bigger and lets them feel welcome in all parts of the community, including the theatre.”

Only 145 tickets are available for the relaxed show, which takes place at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, December 1 and Varnes asks that most patrons, including families with children over four, attend one of the regular performances.

“One of the things we know about people with diverse abilities is that cost can be a barrier, so we’re trying to find a way to reduce the costs for this performance,” says Hryciw. “We know the same barrier exists for others so we encourage them to attend “pay what you can Thursdays.”

The Wizard of Oz runs from Friday, Nov. 22 to 24, Nov. 28 to Dec. 1 and Dec. 5 to 8. Evening performances are at 7 p.m. for this production and Sunday matinees take place at 1:30 p.m.

Tickets go on sale on Oct. 1 and are available online and at Entwined Fibre Arts at 161 Hudson Ave.


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