Cincinnati Ballet Works with the Cincinnati LEND Team to offer a Sensory-Friendly Nutcracker Performance

February 5, 2016

Sometimes people with sensory sensitivities miss out on events like ballets and plays where noises and lights can be overwhelming. The Cincinnati Ballet wanted to change that, and make the magic of The Nutcracker available to everyone. On December 22, 2015, for the first time in its history, the Cincinnati Ballet offered its first sensory-friendly performance of The Nutcracker.

What made the performance sensory-friendly? Lights were at half brightness throughout the performance, theater doors remained open, audience members were allowed to come and go as needed, electronic devices were allowed in the theater, and designated quiet areas were available in the lobby.

To help make this happen, Cincinnati Ballet's Director of Education and Outreach, Julie Sunderland, reached out to the Cincinnati LEND team, after hearing about the work LEND did with the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to familiarize children on the Autism Spectrum with the airport and travel procedures.

The LEND team applied some of the same concepts to the ballet environment, and visual supports were developed for families to download for free at Cincinnati Ballet's website, so attendees knew what to expect at the performance.

The LEND team also provided training to Cincinnati Ballet staff and dancers, venue staff, and all volunteers, to ensure everyone was ready for the big day. Dr. Jen Smith, Director of the Cincinnati LEND program, and many LEND trainees attended the performance to provide additional support as needed.

The event also marked the first time attendee Sara Bitter's family was able to go together to a performance in a theatre like this. "My kids really enjoyed it and it was very helpful that my son was able to walk out to a sensory break area during the second act. Everyone was very well trained and knowledgeable. We wouldn't have been able to go otherwise," said Sara.

About 750 people were able to attend the performance, and 90 Cincinnati Ballet staff and dancers, 70 Aronoff ushers, and at least 20 volunteers received the training. "The training could not have been better. Jen Smith was so reassuring and helpful, and Cincinnati LEND's support on the day of the performance helped make this a success," said Ms. Sunderland.

Plans are already in the works for another sensory friendly Nutcracker performance next year. "The Nutcracker is such a long-standing holiday tradition in Cincinnati. Everyone should be able to experience it, no matter what their special needs might be," said Dr. Smith.