Pictou Advocate Arts and Entertainment

Relaxed performances open the doors at Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre

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ANTIGONISH – Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre is opening its doors in a new way with the addition of “Relaxed Performances” to its regular schedule.

A Relaxed Performance is one in which the environment is specifically adapted to relax the traditional expectations around silence, darkness, and stillness in the theatre. It is designed to benefit people living with autism, sensory perception disorders, anxiety, mental health disorders, and intellectual disability, to name a few. The goal is to create a safe and welcoming space for the audience, and to make professional theatre accessible to a large segment of our community that has traditionally experienced exclusion through social, economic, and systemic barriers.

“Relaxed performances are a growing trend in the global theatre industry, and rightfully so”, says artistic director Andrea Boyd. “Theatre is meant to be open and inclusive, and I was so pleased that we introduced this important initiative as a pilot last year. We received an enthusiastic and heartwarming response to our test, so this year the initiative will become formally incorporated into our program.”

Festival Antigonish lifts the curtain on its 31st season on July 3. The lineup includes four plays on the main stage, one play on the family stage, drama workshops for youth, and a play reading series. Three Relaxed Performances will be part of the schedule, all taking place in the week of July 30 to coincide with the Special Olympics National Summer Games, also happening in Antigonish that week.

“We are pleased to be among the first theatre companies in Atlantic Canada to introduce Relaxed Performances,” says managing director Reema Fuller. “And this year, we are expanding the roster to three shows – with thousands of athletes and their supporters coming to Antigonish for the Special Olympics, we wanted to do our part to extend a warm welcome to everyone, and to celebrate our social and cultural diversity.”

Several technical adaptations are made to a show for a Relaxed Performance. The sound and light levels are reduced. Any jarring special effects are minimized. The house lights are kept on at a moderate level, and ushers are trained to accommodate and assist patrons who may need to move around or leave their seats (and come back) at any time during the show. Before the show, the director, actors, and stage manager come on stage and explain what to expect in the show to minimize ambiguity and to create a safe space. The atmosphere is generally more sensitive and welcoming for all. While the focus of the performances is specific, the shows are in fact open to everyone. Others also likely to attend a Relaxed Performance include parents with infants in their arms, and medical professionals who need to be on call with electronic devices.

Tickets for Relaxed Performances at Festival Antigonish will be subsidized ($10, as compared to $30-$38) for all beneficiary groups to help address the financial barriers that are also a challenge, on top of the social barrier to attending performing arts events. The project is funded in part by the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage.