Relaxed performance is a first for Durham Gala

Durham’s Gala Theatre is to host a special pantomime performance designed for audience members with extra sensory needs.

Staff from the Durham City theatre have been working with the North East Autism Society (NEAS) to create the first ever ‘relaxed performance’ of their pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk, which will be performed on Wednesday, 4 January.

Relaxed performances are specially tailored shows, where lighting and special effects are slightly altered and any very loud noises deliberately reduced.

The performance also allows audience members to move around freely as required, make noise if they wish and sit with the auditorium lights dimly lit, in order to create a reassuring atmosphere. A break-out area is also provided, for anyone who needs to take time out from the auditorium.

Staff members at the Gala Theatre have received specialist training and advice from the NEAS. Kerrie Highcock, Family Development Manager at NEAS said: “It is fantastic to work with the team at the Gala Theatre, to help them develop a relaxed performance for their panto. A visit to the theatre can be just a standard experience for many people, but for someone with autism it can be very difficult, confusing and overwhelming. Making a few adjustments at the theatre means that people with autism can experience the show too.”

As well as the adjustments to the performance itself, the Gala Theatre team has also created a special pack, including a story board and images from the production, which allows audience members to become familiar with what to expect when they come to the panto. And specialist  ‘touch tours’ are being offered before the show in order to reduce any anxiety, where audience members can meet the characters and get up-close with the set and costumes.

Durham County Council’s service manager for place and experience, Robin Byers, said: “This is the first time we have worked to develop a relaxed performance at the Gala

Theatre and we are delighted that the experience of a trip to the panto will now be accessible to people with extra sensory needs. This relaxed performance debut is not only a first for the theatre, but will likely be the first chance that many County Durham families who have a member with extra sensory needs will get to enjoy the traditional trip to see a panto together. These families can be assured in the knowledge that this unique performance will provide the supportive atmosphere needed for those family members with extra sensory needs and that’s something we are proud to offer.”

Gala Theatre’s relaxed performance of Jack and the Beanstalk is on Wednesday, 4 January. The panto runs until Saturday, 7 January, tickets are priced from £10 and are available by contacting 03000 266 600, visiting Gala in person or online at www.galadurham.co.uk

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