Sudbury Theatre Centre's relaxed performance scales back the intensity
Lights, sound effects altered slightly to accomodate those on autism spectrum and other special needs
It's called "relaxed performance," but the goal is not to lull the audience to sleep in those comfy theatre chairs.
Instead, it's about "making theatre accessible" to everyone, says Caleb Marshall, the artistic and executive director of the Sudbury Theatre Centre, one of only a handful of Canadian companies offering the special type of programming.
The performances are designed "to be sensitive to, or accepting of people who may find the usual theatre-going experience challenging," he said, citing examples of people on the autism spectrum, and those with dementia, or developmental issues which may lead them to make involuntary movements or noises.
House lights dimmed, doors left open
Relaxed performance does not substantially change the show. Instead, minor adjustments are made so "the audience gets to enjoy the story, and the overall art that you're presenting," Marshall said.
Changes might include dimming the house lights but not turning them off completely, leaving the inner theatre doors open, and softening sound and light cues "so things which might be really jarring or quite intense or potentially cause some anxiety are not removed, but scaled back."
Sometimes when there's involuntary vocal noises, that's a form of engagement. That's somebody's response. It's just a different kind of response."- Caleb Marshall, Sudbury Theatre Centre
Marshall also makes a point of preparing the audience for what they're about to see by telling people they can get up and leave if they want to, and by introducing all of the actors before the play begins. The actors then go on to explain why a character is shouting, getting angry or "if there is physical violence in the show, we might even demonstrate that," to avoid alarming the audience when the scene occurs.
In some ways, relaxed performances harken back to Shakespeare's day when theatres were a more raucous place, with people talking, buying and selling things and even throwing items on stage.
He has no desire to return to that amount of distraction, but Marshall said that type of theatre environment created a special relationship between cast and audience.
"There was shared light at Shakespeare's Globe [theatre]. The lights didn't go down. You could see the audience. They could see the actors. It created a kind of engagement, and sometimes when there's involuntary vocal noises, that's a form of engagement. That's somebody's response. It's just a different kind of response."
The Sudbury Theatre Centre will host a relaxed performance on the last Sunday of the run for each of its productions this season.
To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.
By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.
Become a CBC Account Holder
Join the conversation Create account
Already have an account?