Penn State Centre Stage returns with first-ever sensory-friendly play

Local News

CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — Live, in-person theatre returns to Penn State’s Centre Stage for the first time since March of 2020, and it’s offering an all new performance style that can engage a wider audience.

The play, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”, follows a neurodivergent 15-year-old who is trying to solve a mystery. The performance’s lighting and sound design are meant to help the audience understand how he might sense the world around him.

“For those of us who are neurotypical, we may not understand the sound sensitivity, or the color sensitivity, or the way information gets processed, so we tried to create a world for the audience that allows us to maybe get some sense of what his internal mental experience is like,” said Rick Lombardo, director of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”.

Lombardo said the production team began connecting with outside experts about a year ago.

“For those of us in the theatre, we’re always telling stories about worlds that we may not be experts at, and our job is to find out, so that we can tell stories with sensitivity and accurate representation,” said Lombardo.

Their research included discussions with Penn State faculty, community members who live with autism, parents of autistic children, and a professional actor/activist with autism.

“We’ve been bringing in these resources all along so that everyone working on the production knows how to tell the story with as much accuracy as they can,” said Lombardo.

To include those who may have similar experiences to those highlighted in the play, Centre Stage is hosting two sensory-friendly performances with adjusted design, resources, and staff support.

“What we do is we find ways to make the production as accessible as possible, for people who maybe have different sensitivities to sound or light or darkness,” said Lombardo.

The sensory-friendly performances include:

  • Lower sound level
  • Lights remain on at a low level in the theatre during the performance
  • A reduction of strobe lighting or lighting focused on the audience
  • Patrons are free to talk and leave their seats during the performance
  • Designated quiet and activity areas within the theatre
  • Space throughout the theatre for standing and movement
  • Guidance and sensory supports (fidgets/earplugs/ear-muffs) available in the lobby before the show
  • Audience members are welcome to bring their own manipulatives, seat cushions, comfort objects, and extra support items to the show
  • Use of tablets, smart phones, and other electronic devices can be used with headphones during the performance
  • Extra staff and volunteer support
  • House staff trained to be inviting and accommodating to families’ needs

“We try as much as possible to maintain the way we tell the story, but, in a sense, lower down all the noise, so we’re not likely to trigger someone who may be neurodivergent,” said Lombardo.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” runs October 1-9, with sensory-friendly performances on October 3 (2 p.m.) and 6 (7:30 p.m.). Tickets are $12.50 for sensory friendly performances, $12.50 for Penn State students, and $25 for adults.

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