New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

By Lauren Meyer, Spring 2015 Communications Apprentice

April is Autism Awareness Month, and The New Victory Theater is offering autism-friendly performances at both of our April productions, Catch Me! (Attrape-moi) and The Mysterious Hat. As a Communications Apprentice here, I’m enjoying learning about all the ways the New Victory makes theater accessible to everyone. But when I first heard about the autism-friendly performances offered at the New Vic, I had tons of questions. How are autism-friendly performances developed? What makes them different from other performances? I immediately wanted to know more!

Thankfully, I was able to speak with Brandon Hutchinson, a New Victory Usher Corps alumnus who had firsthand experience in the process. Brandon was in his third year as a member of the Usher Corps when he was given the opportunity to shadow the Education Department and work on the first autism-friendly performance at The New Victory. He shared his experiences and insights with me, and in the spirit of Autism Awareness Month, I'm excited to share them with you.

What originally interested you about working on this project?

When I started college I knew I wanted to work in the Education field, but I also knew that I didn't want to leave my performing arts background when I did so. When I learned that The New Vic was expanding their outreach to children on the autism spectrum, I wanted to be part of it. 

The Ushers received special training for these autism-friendly performances. What was this training session like? How did this training help prepare you to assist students and families?

The consultants from Autism Friendly Spaces taught us how they accommodate the sensory, social and communication-based needs of individuals across the autism spectrum. It was incredibly insightful to learn how to talk to these children. It is important to treat them like we would any other child, and not ostracize them if they have an outburst during the show. We were taught how to use concrete language and tools like If/Then cards to quickly and quietly diffuse any situation. Some of the AFS staff present also had siblings who were on the spectrum, and they shared their insights with us.

What did you learn about how to adjust a performance or a space to create a positive, autism-friendly theater experience? 

In learning about the main elements of autism, I learned that there are many different facets and triggers across that spectrum. Some accommodations we made included dimming the interior lights in the seating area rather than turning them all the way off and lowering sound levels in some moments of the show. I was also involved in researching fidgets, tools that can help alleviate some of the pressure a kid might feel in social situations. Fidgets can range from something as simple as a foam ball—something soft in the hands—to a puzzle—something complex that requires focus. A Calming Corner with beanbag chairs and an Activity Area near the live-feed monitor were also set up so if anyone needed to take a break they had someplace to go.

How did this experience at The New Victory influence your current work or studies? And what are you working towards now?

I've always wanted to work with kids who have special needs, and this experience catapulted me into the middle of where I wanted to be. I currently work at an after-school program where there are kids who are on the spectrum, and this summer I'll be working in the Performing Arts division of a summer camp. This camp is an inclusive camp where there are kids who are both on the spectrum and not, and I'll be using a majority of the things that I learned and researched to help the kids gain confidence through the arts.

What do you think is the value of arts organizations providing autism-friendly experiences for patrons?

Kids are kids. They all want to have fun and experience the same things. Some kids need help to get to a comfortable point where they are able to express themselves freely, and it's our job as educators to help them get there. The value of art is universal, and arts organizations have a duty to provide the same kind of open, welcoming feeling to all of the patrons who wish to attend. Autism-friendly performances tell kids who might be bullied or made fun of because they are "different" that there is a safe space. There is a place that they can come to and enjoy being a kid, because all kids, regardless of special need or disability, have the right to experience the power of art.

The New Victory is offering autism-friendly performances for both Catch Me! (April 10 at 7pm) and The Mysterious Hat (April 25 at 7pm). Everyone is welcome to enjoy the show in a sensory-friendly, relaxed atmosphere. 

What to Expect at an Autism-Friendly Performance.
Download a pdf of our "Visiting the New Vic" Social Story.

Lauren Meyer is a Communications Apprentice for The New 42nd Street. As a teaching artist specializing in musical theater, she is passionate about encouraging students in the arts and inspiring new audiences. Originally from California, Lauren enjoys exploring New York City, bundled up in one too many coats
Posted by Zack Ramadan

There's a moment at the beginning of Catch Me!, currently playing at the New Vic, when the characters suddenly notice one another and erupt in an explosion of spirited hugs. This moment, this reunion of these six old friends, underlies all the circusy antics and acrobatics that follow. Their friendship reignites so fiercely that the show becomes an explosive celebration of their bond, and they go on to spend one summer's day reconnecting through incredible feats of trust and collaboration.

I've lived in New York for almost seven years, and still some of my closest friends live far away from here: San Francisco, Chicago, London. So when we have the chance to visit, time slows down. Every memory I make takes on this sort of happy glow, and I never stop smiling. We all have old friends like this, people whom we catch up with only rarely. But when we do see them again after years apart, it's like a burst of firecrackers. We might not all bounce off a trampowall or have a popsicle-eating contest, the way the friends in Catch Me! do; but we somehow pick up right where we left off and wonder how it is that we’ve gone so long without each other's jokes and insights, without each other's company.

Last summer, I had my wedding here in New York, and for some reason, friends and family from every stage in my life all agreed to show up! I'm joking—of course they came. But it's difficult to square "all these people have RSVPed yes" with "Oh my gosh, everyone I know and love is in one room at the same time." We made a long weekend out of it, culminating in a Sunday excursion to Governor's Island for anyone who was still in town. As we waited for the ferry, enjoying the best of Smorgasburg's fancy-pants artisanal tacos and minty lemonade, we suddenly bumped into a completely separate group of college friends. They were visiting New York for entirely different reasons, and we reconnected for the first time in years. While I'll certainly never forget my wedding weekend, the serendipity of that reunion-within-a-reunion is the memory that glows brightest.

Zack's Wedding Reunion

I asked our staff members here to contribute stories of their own long-lasting friendships, memories of reunions that have take on special meaning for them, or that have led to special traditions. Boy, did they deliver. We'd love to hear about your own memorable reunions with friends! What did you do and where did you go? What did it feel like and why do you remember it so clearly? Have you made any reunion traditions? Leave your story in the comments or on our Facebook page!

I have a dear friend who helped me get a job at The LA Times many moons ago. We became buddies with two other girls in the department, and after six years our lives took us to different jobs, marriages and states. The four of us still meet up every five years, and what always strikes me as wonderful is that our friendship feels the same now as it did then, like we never skipped a beat with the passing time. We're planning on Utah for the next reunion, and then the following one will be in NYC! — Rhesa Richards, Assistant to the Executive VP and VP of Operations

Homemade pizzaWhen my closest friends and I all returned from studying abroad and were on summer break, we decided to reunite at my friend Sarah's house in Staten Island for a sleepover. I can remember clearly how loud everyone shouted when a new friend would arrive at the house and we would attack them with hugs! We spent the night eating chips and guacamole, making homemade pizzas and playing multiple rounds of Quelf. Then, in the morning, we all made each other scrambled eggs and biscuits. It was nice how we were all so happy to see each other, but at the same time it felt like we had never left. Now every break we have from school, we all gather at Sarah's house for a night of pizza, Quelf and catching up. — Melanie Ridgway, Spring 2015 Education Apprentice

Since leaving our homes in South Florida for college, one of my nearest, dearest, and oldest best friends, J, and I have lived in separate cities. When we did live at home, there just...wasn't much to do! So our time together as high schoolers was spent primarily wandering around (mostly closed) strip malls, slurping slushies and listening to Fiona Apple. (I know, teenage angst, amiright?) Now that we're adults, whenever we travel back home for holidays, we find ourselves recreating our high school adolescence, not so much out of nostalgia but out of giggly reunion! She still has that Fiona Apple CD. — Katie Diamond, Graphics & Media Production Coordinator

Birthday cakeThis past December, my Dad planned a huge multi-layered surprise for my step-mom's 50th birthday party. First, a surprise party in Leesburg, Virginia (my hometown). Both her best friend who lives in Texas and I were present—she had no idea we were in town! Afterwards, she had plans to go on a cruise for a week to the West Bahamas. She found out before leaving for the airport that my sister and I were coming, our first big family vacation in ten years! Then, we get on the boat, and it turns out our group is about twenty-five people—many family members and friends came to join us on the cruise! — Erika Atkins, Education Department Coordinator

When my family gets together these days, we've developed an informal tradition of breaking out board games—most likely Settlers of Catan. None of us live with enough people to play on an average night at home, so it's a nice opportunity to do something we don't normally and a much more fun way to spend time together than just watching TV. — Jamie O'Brien, Assistant Director of Digital Services

After we graduated , my core college friends would get together at least once a year and sometimes more. For many years, it was for bridal showers, weddings, baby showers, holidays, sometimes a special girl weekend, etc. But this last year, we all got to see each other multiple times to celebrate a momentous year of birthdays. Always a fun time! — Courtney J. Boddie, Director of Education / School Engagement

ScissorsI grew up in Corona, Queens, and while I've lived in many other places over the years, my best friends are still from there. One of the members of my group of friends from Queens is a hairdresser, and for the past thirty years or so, his best friends (both men and women and myself included) have made hair appointments every six to eight weeks with him on a weekend. We spend the entire day visiting with each other and getting our hair done, after which we all go out to dinner together. We keep to this schedule to the best of our ability because we love each other's company and we are loving going through life together, even though our paths have taken all of us in different directions. — Alice Arias, Controller

Posted by Zack Ramadan
Tags: 2014-15, Staff
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