A production is throwing out the traditional rules and expectations of theatre-going and flinging wide the doors to a one-night-only "relaxed" performance, in what is believed to be a first in Calgary.

On Tuesday evening, people living with dementia or developmental disabilities, including Tourette syndrome and autism, will be invited to take in the world premiere of the new musical Crime Does Not Pay.

"All the traditional strict rules of theatre-going, where you have to sit silently and still for two hours in the dark, we're relaxing those rules," said Col Cseke, artistic director of Inside Out Theatre, an organization that has run community drama programs for adults with developmental disabilities in Calgary since 1993.

"The idea is everyone can do whatever they have to do to enjoy the show."

Crime Does Not Pay

Crime Does Not Pay, a brand-new musical inspired by a true story, debuts in Calgary March 2 to 11 with a special relaxed performance March 7 that has been tweaked to make it accessible to people living with disabilities. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Cseke has partnered with Downstage to tweak the technical aspects of the show so that audience members who may have acute light or sound sensitivity will still be able to enjoy it.

For help with the adjustments, the directors invited two people with the lived experience of cerebral palsy and autism to screen the musical with copies of the script in hand. During the performance, the two auditors jotted down notes where they felt changes could be made. 

One of the auditors remarked to Cseke that he had never seen a play before, because he had never felt welcome.

"It upsets me to think that the structures that we've built — both the physical structures and the rules that we've built — have excluded a bunch of people from experiencing the really amazing art that happens in Calgary. It's not that hard to change that," Cseke said.

Expanding the pilot

Tuesday's performance is open to everyone, including regular theatre goers. 

Cseke said it's unlikely anyone would notice the technical changes, but he believes the relaxed structure of the show will actually enhance the experience for everyone.

"Any time you see someone get up and leave the theatre, or make a sound, what you're witnessing is someone experiencing theatre who almost never gets to," he said.

"There's an awareness that you're possibly sitting next to someone who, if not for this relaxed performance, would not be able to see theatre."

Downstage's artistic director Simon Mallett said he's excited to be able to pilot this offering. 

Col Cseke

Col Cseke, artistic director of Inside Out Theatre, says the adjusted show is 'meant to invite people in who may feel like a traditional theatre-going experience isn’t super accessible.' (Mike Symington/CBC)

"Downstage's mandate is to produce theatre that creates conversation around social issues," he said.

"If there are things that we're doing that are unintentionally excluding people from being a part of those conversations and being a part of those experiences, then we absolutely want to do what we can to be able to get rid of those," Mallett said.

"We're a company who wants everybody in Calgary to be able to come and experience a theatre that we're making, and we'll do that in whatever ways we're able to."

Cseke hopes to expand this theatre offering throughout the city. His end goal is to eventually program whole seasons, spanning different theatre companies in Calgary, with year-round relaxed theatre access.

He's reached out to several other troupes and says so far, all have been eager to get on board. 


  • An earlier version of this story stated this was the first relaxed performance in Alberta. In fact, there has been at least one other relaxed performance in the province, but Inside Out Theatre says this is the first in Calgary.
    Mar 08, 2017 12:31 PM MT
With files from Mike Symington