Parkes M&D will host its first autism friendly performance with Shrek The Musical Junior

What first began as an idea has now become a reality and an opportunity for those with autism, learning disabilities or a sensory disposition to attend a show at the theatre.

In a first for the Parkes Musical & Dramatic Society, and perhaps for regional theatres, the local company will attempt an autism friendly relaxed performance.

It's certainly no easy task and requires a lot of changes to a regular performance, but it's a challenge director Lyn Townsend and musical director Neil Westcott really want to take on.

This Friday night at the Little Theatre will be opening night for the Society's latest production Shrek The Musical Junior.

It will run over the first two weekends in June and feature nine shows, with the autism friendly performance taking place on June 15 at 2pm.

The musical has a cast of 38 children aged between seven years to 19, who come from Parkes, Forbes and surrounding towns.

"There will be 24 juniors who are new faces for the Society - our Shrek is 19 and he's our eldest, everyone else is under 15 years old," Lyn said.

"Shrek will have impressive sets, amazing costumes and tell everyone's favourite story of how an ugly ogre and a beautiful princess fall in love.

"It promises to be a wonderful show for the whole family."

It's still unknown how it will play out... But we want to try to allow as many people to enjoy theatre and love it.

Director Lynn Townsend

Lyn said the decision to stage an autism friendly show was a pretty special and exciting step for the Society.

She had heard stories of families with autistic children who had never attended theatre performances.

"I'd seen it and knew it had been done in professional shows in cities, so I did some research and talked to people who had children with autism," she said.

"To my knowledge no other regional theatre has done this before.

"It's still unknown how it will play out... But we want to try to allow as many people to enjoy theatre and love it.

"It's also a great opportunity for the kids in the cast to gain an understanding of people on the autism spectrum and the challenges they face."

Lyn turned to the Central West Autism and Special Needs Awareness Group, who have been very helpful with advice and guidance for the June 15 show.

The performance will be specially adapted to be accessible to people with autism, learning disabilities or sensory sensitivities.

This will involve all sudden lighting and sound effects taken out and the house lights will be left on at 50 per cent.

There will be no aggressive or confrontational content and all main characters will be introduced to patrons before the show commences.

Lyn said there will be quiet spaces with bean bags in the foyer where patrons can go if the show becomes a little too much and extra front of house staff will be on hand to assist.

"The lighting will be very different, we will be toning down everything," she said.

The Society will also open the doors early before the show so children can come along, hear the music, meet the characters and be familiar with the theatre environment.

"There is no template to work with, we'll learn a lot from the day itself," Neil said.

"We have an opportunity to do this, it's the next step.

"There's a lot of work involved in changing everything...the atmosphere will be different.

"There are only certain shows you can do this with - this musical for example has no orchestra, only prerecorded music."

By Monday the Society had sold 50 tickets to the autism friendly performance.

Tickets for Shrek The Musical Junior can be purchased online at www.parkesmandd.com.au or from Parkes Regional Business Supplies in Clarinda Street.

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