Theatre Development Fund Brings Autism-Friendly Shows to the Stage

Theatre Development Fund Brings Autism-Friendly Shows to the Stage
The delighted audience during a curtain call at an autism-friendly performance of The Lion King. (Photo by: TDF)

The magic of live theater should be accessible to everyone, and the Theatre Development Fund (TDF) takes that mission to heart. The TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative brings autism-friendly performances to Broadway throughout the year, providing affordable events that specifically cater to people on the autism spectrum.

We recently sat down with David Leshay of the TDF to learn more about the program. Check out the interview below to learn more about what makes a performance autism-friendly and discover some upcoming autism-friendly shows. Interested in attending an event? Head over to the Autism Theatre Initiative site (and Blue Man Group Autism Speak site) to pick up tickets.

TICKETMASTER: What is the Theatre Development Fund’s role in these autism-friendly events?

DAVID: What TDF does is purchase the entire house for a specific performance. They then sell those tickets at affordable prices to families with children or adults on the autism spectrum. There are people who have signed up at TDF’s website to hear about when these special performances are scheduled and when tickets go on sale.

Having an entire theater of people who understand what it is like to be on the autism spectrum creates a friendly and non-judgmental atmosphere where people don’t have to worry about being admonished for behavior that is not within their control. TDF works closely with the production to tone down some loud sounds and harsh lighting cues so as to not make it uncomfortable for some people on the spectrum who are sensitive to intense sound and light.

Within the theater itself, TDF sets up special activity areas and quiet areas if someone needs to leave the performance for a few minutes. The men’s and women’s restrooms become “family restrooms” so parents can go in with their children when needed.

Additionally, TDF has over 40 volunteers at performances helping the families any way they can. The cast members and theater staff are also given special training so they can better understand the needs of the audience and what to expect.

TICKETMASTER: What tend to be the most rewarding moments for eventgoers?

DAVID: What seems to be very special are the times the cast does a post-performance discussion. Not everyone stays, but those who do have appreciated being able to directly meet the cast and ask questions. These are often very moving and emotional.

TICKETMASTER: How do you get the word out about autism-friendly events?

DAVID: We have a list of folks who want to hear about these special performances. Many are going for the first time and some go to every performance with their families as, for some, it is the only time they feel safe at a public performance with their children. Often the shows sell out in one or two days as the demand is high and seating is limited. Autism organizations also post about it on social media sites like Twitter and that often helps get the word out.

TICKETMASTER: Can you recommend some sources for finding autism-friendly events?

DAVID: Autism Speaks: autismspeaks.org

TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative: tdf.org/autism.

In the fall of 2015 TDF in association with The Broadway League will be launching a new site, Theatre Access NYC (www.theatreaccess.nyc), which will serve as a one-stop website for accessible Broadway performances for theatergoers with disabilities.

TICKETMASTER: What are some great upcoming autism-friendly performances?

DAVID: TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative’s (ATI) upcoming autism-friendly performances are matinee performances of “Wicked” on Sunday February 7, 2016, and “Aladdin” on Sunday, March 6.


A big thanks to David Leshay of the TDF for the great information. In addition to the upcoming autism-friendly shows mentioned above, each Blue Man Group location will perform an autism-friendly show in 2015 (blueman.com/autismspeaks), here are shows that are coming up:

Chicago – Oct. 4th – 4pm
Orlando – Dec. 5 & 6th  – 6pm