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.

As Autism Awareness Month draws to a close, we're delighted to feature this post written by Virginia Campbell and Regina Carmody together with Tzvi, a young man they care for who has ASD (autism spectrum disorder). They shared with us the story of what it was like for Tzvi to grow from a New Vic kid into one of The New Victory's biggest fans!


Tzvi, Regina and Virgina Regina Carmody, Tzvi and Virgina Campbell in 2017 
When he was young, we started bringing Tzvi to puppet shows. He looked forward to them and showed an early interest in and aptitude for music (especially songs from Disney movies). We wanted to get him comfortable with larger groups, so we started looking for new theatrical experiences. When Tzvi was 9-years-old, we got tickets to Pigs, Bears and Billy Goats Gruff at The New Victory Theater before there were designated Autism-Friendly performances. Despite his initial nerves, Tzvi was able to enjoy the show, singing and clapping whenever he liked. Everyone accepted him for who he was. That was his first step in enjoying social events. What a gift it was!

"When we went to see Pigs, Bears and Billy Goats Gruff, we had to sit in the balcony because I was too anxious to sit in the orchestra. We went in very slowly and carefully, since I wanted to be able to leave as quickly as possible. Now I'm never scared to come to The New Victory!" Tzvi says.

Over eight years that followed, we saw over 50 shows and each one led to exposure in a new area. They made his world bigger. The shared joy of music and laughter is a natural connection to others that kids with autism can't access easily. He now sees himself as an audience member—a part of a group. Theatergoers are his tribe! In fact, Tzvi thinks everyone should join in. "Come by and say hi. Everyone's so friendly. They laugh, smile and help anyone who asks."

This community gives Tzvi a toehold into the larger world. He's learned that even though a show—and by extension the world—may be full of surprises, some things are constant: the lights dim, people perform and the audience claps. Attending New Vic shows made him curious to explore in the larger world, but if he gets nervous, we follow the rules of engagement: look, listen and hold a friend's hand if you don't know what's going on.

Tzvi has enjoyed coming to the New Vic for both family workshops and shows. He says, "There's so many activities; I love The New Victory Theater all year-round. There are so many things to do and all ages—even adults—are welcome."

He rarely gets nervous when attending shows anymore and that goes to show how much he really has grown. One of the most valuable skills Tzvi has learned since coming to the New Vic is how to cope and adjust to the changing sensory aspects he experiences in the theater. To him, it became worth it to cope with the height, sounds, lighting, physical space and crowds, but it didn't come easy. The New Victory became a safe space for him to conquer his fears and enjoy the shows. Tzvi learned to anticipate challenges and then even adjust for his own needs. At first, he would say, "Balloons fall at 4:55. Tzvi goes to the lobby." Now he'll stay for the balloons and actively take part.


WT and Tzvi WT and Tzvi at one of Tzvi's first workshops
Another valuable skill Tzvi developed over time at New Vic was self-discovery. The organized schedule allowed him to plan, but it also helped him question his own likes and needs. The schedule gave him choices, and the variety of the New Vic's content helped him grow. It got him to ask questions like: Who am I and where do I fit in? Where will I sit? (It took us years to get to the orchestra.) How do others around me act at a theater? Now he sees himself at a stage in his life when he can grow even further and strive to be like those who mentored him. 

Tzvi has grown so much that a few months ago, he assisted his New Vic Teaching Artist friend, WT, with a juggling workshop. "I loved helping the kids learn to juggle. I even got better by teaching them," Tzvi says. "Getting to take part in the juggling workshop made me feel very proud of myself. I've come so far since 2008! My favorite part of the workshop was introducing my friend WT to the kids and making all of the announcements."

Those mentors—like WT—help Tzvi experience joy. They provide a nonjudgmental place and opportunity to learn to be part of an audience, and to experience different ways to communicate—through dance or physical comedy or clowning. Bringing youth to a place where they will be accepted—where no one will stare at them, or get annoyed at their reactions—is a precious thing. Participation in New Victory shows and workshops also helped Tzvi to access his strengths within the arts. It's increased his awareness and confidence in movement, communication and music. Today, Tzvi can likely be found making announcements at a family gathering, composing a mash-up of old and new favorite songs, or dancing to whatever beat matches the event. All of these hobbies make him who he is, and are all thanks to The New Victory Theater.

Interested in Autism-Friendly performances? Keep your eyes peeled for our work with Autism Friendly Spaces during our 2017-18 Season!
Posted by Beth Henderson

Both Dr. Jamie Bleiweiss–a native New Yorker–and Dr. Donia Fahim–a Londoner–worked in clinical practice and as university professors, specializing in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Autism is a broad term that describes a group of complex disorders of brain development that can affect a person's ability to interact socially and communicate with others. It affects one in sixty-eight New York City kids. 
Autism Friendly Spaces at the New VicAutism Friendly Spaces at the Autism Friendly performance of The Gruffalo

Jamie and Donia saw a growing need for everyday community spaces to become more accessible and welcoming to the ASD community. Time and time again they spoke to parents of kids with autism who shared their frustrations about the challenges they encountered when venturing out into the community. These families dreamed of a more accommodating world where they didn't feel compelled to explain their kid's seemingly odd behavior to disapproving onlookers. They wanted a place where they weren't made to feel unwelcome and unwanted by people staring and making ill-informed comments about their parenting skills. 

So, in response, six years ago, Dr. Bleiweiss and Dr. Fahim created Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc., to address the diverse needs of individuals with autism and their loved ones. Its mission is to partner with organizations, businesses and cultural institutions–like The New Victory Theater–to help transform minds and physical spaces to enable meaningful inclusion for everyone affiliated with the Autism Community. 

During April, Autism Awareness Month, we asked Donia and Jamie of Autism Friendly Spaces to reflect on their partnership with The New Victory Theater.  

Since 2014, we've been proud to partner with the New Vic to bring New York City families multiple autism-friendly performances each season. These autism-friendly performances at the New Vic are often the highlight of our year. We regularly present our autism awareness training workshops to their phenomenal team of ushers. For autism-friendly performances, we carefully plot out the most enriching ways to introduce the New Vic shows to audience members with ASD. During each event, Autism Friendly Spaces staff and volunteers are always greeted with warm smiles and support from all of the New Vic ushers and staff at the show. It feels like we're all one big family there to support the audience!

"I absolutely love working with the ushers at New Victory! After meeting them during the training workshop, it's so special to see how enthusiastic they are during events. They truly embrace the information they learn, and are able to make connections with the audience while having a ton of fun with them!" shared Dana Khani, Senior Consultant with Autism Friendly Spaces.


Autism Friendly Spaces at the New Vic One of the many activities for kids at New Vic Autism Friendly Performances
We also consult with the production team before each show. This is critical in order to make any adjustments to the sound or visual effects to accommodate sensory sensitivities experienced by some audience members with autism. While we may make some minor modifications (like making sure show lights don't shine directly into the audience), we always maintain the integrity of the show so that the audience members have an authentic theater experience.

"Aside from working at Autism Friendly Spaces, I'm also a Special Education teacher. A visit to the theatre to see a live performance is such a great learning opportunity for kids with ASD. Knowing that these families have access to theater means so much to me," says Keren Keyzner, Director of Programs for Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc.

Additional accommodations and supports are provided during the autism-friendly shows, including designated areas in the lower lobby area where patrons can take a break at any point before, during or after the show. Autism Friendly Spaces provides trained volunteers who oversee these break areas and offer support as needed. Various fidget tools (such as koosh balls and tangles) are made readily available for individuals who may need them, as are an array of visual supports to help make the visit to the theater more predictable. Finally, we have a designated family friendly restroom, a support that many families are grateful for at these performances!

When asked what it's like to be involved in these special events at the New Victory Theater, Keren exclaimed, "My favorite part is getting to see the same families come to every show. Watching them get a high-five from the ushers and volunteers as they see a familiar face, it makes it all worth it!" Keyzner notes, "Many families talk with us about how their child said they're only staying for 5 minutes just to 'see how they feel' and then an hour later they are walking out at the end of the show grinning from ear to ear! Additionally, as a mother, I love seeing the parents find confidence. They see that their children can be successful and enjoy the theater."
Autism Friendly Spaces We believe that autism is not a puzzle that needs to be solved. Rather, we work to unlock minds and spaces in society, that's why our logo is a key! We aim to move beyond awareness, towards acceptance, accommodation and authentic appreciation of individuals with ASD!
To learn more about Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc., find out how to volunteer, or otherwise help support the work they do, please visit their website!

Posted by Beth Henderson
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