Arts and Culture

Shani Gilchrist



Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College produces sensory-friendly production

Posted 5/16/2013 1:49:00 PM

This past weekend I made sure to send a Mother’s Day text to a friend whom I admire greatly. She has four children, one of whom lives with autism, and she has established a foundation called Winston’s Wish that works with community partners and volunteers to provide outreach and educational opportunities for families touched by the disorder. She really is a SuperMom. Last night, when I heard about a special opportunity in Columbia she was one of the first people I wanted to share it with.

Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College in Columbia will bring back a favorite this Sunday, but with a more inclusive twist. “Story Squad” — a favorite from last fall — will be performed in the same engaging manner that had children and adults leaning in for more, but this time the performance will be sensory-friendly.

This means that the production will be slightly modified to create a more enjoyable experience for audience members who live with autism or other sensory-specific disorders. Sudden noises that might be a part of the performance will be quieter, surprises will be less so, and the lighting will be friendlier. If a lighting change does occur, the audience and parents will first be warned before the transition by a specially trained usher. In order to ease audience members into the performance experience, a “social story” is available at here that explains what will happen when visitors arrive at the theater and what to do if feelings of worry or anxiety arise.

The cast of Story Squad and Harbison Theatre staff worked with Jessie Baughman, lead case manager for Palmetto Autism Interventions, and Susanna Fomby, who has worked as a consultant for the sensory-friendly performance of The Lion King on Broadway.

“Sensory disorders, common but not limited to individuals with autism, can make attending some events and outings challenging for families,” Baughman says. “By offering sensory-friendly performances, Harbison Theatre provides an inclusive and judgement-free environment in which Midlands children and their families can have an opportunity to experience the arts.”

The idea for a sensory-friendly performance at Harbison Theatre was conceived by Katie Fox, Director of Theatre Operations.

“Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College is a place where everyone belongs,” she says. “That includes audience members for whom theatrical performances may sometimes feel stressful. We are grateful for the opportunity to welcome an audience with sensory sensitivity through our doors and we hope to see other performing arts organizations offer such performances in the future.”

Darion McCloud, creator and captain of the Story Squad, agrees. “What a cool, unique way to engage our entire community,” McCloud says. “When Katie [Fox] approached me with the idea, we were all in. We are proud to participate and it’s a fun challenge.”

This special version of Story Squad will be performed at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 19, at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College. Tickets are $10. For more information, please visit the theater’s website.