Written by Dr. Lauren Tucker

The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford continued its sensory-friendly series with a production of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical” at the end of November. The Bushnell has established a series of sensory-friendly or relaxed events that increase access to the theater for all patrons. During the sensory-friendly performances, the lights remain on, the show has lower audio levels, the seating is flexible, and there are designated quiet spaces throughout the theater. In collaboration with Dr. Lauren Tucker from the Special Education Department at Southern Connecticut State University, they also offered a low-tech communication board for patrons attending the performance. The communication board, pictured below, was developed to increase access to the theater experience for patrons with complex communication needs.

During the event, language was modeled by Dr. TuckCore communication board from the Bushnell Sensory Friendly Rudolph Show. The first seven columns have core vocabulary words (you, drink, eat, like, see, up, down) and the last two columns have “show specific” words (Seat, Bushnell, Santa, Rudolph, etc.).er when she interacted with patrons using the board. Parents of individuals with communication needs also modeled language while using the communication board. Beyond communication use, many children and other attendees were interested in its purpose. Its prominence sparked discussions around inclusion and access. Many younger patrons engaged with the pictures and were curious about the board. The Bushnell’s dedication to access and to providing multiple layers of support to establish a welcoming experience is apparent through their continued inclusion of these resources.

Autism expert and professor, Dr. Kim Bean, from the Center of Excellence in Autism Spectrum Disorders at Southern Connecticut State University, was also available on-site to support Bushnell volunteers and patrons. Dr. Bean utilized finger puppets with characters from the show to engage patrons while waiting to see Santa and Mrs. Claus. She cycled through the event, quiet spaces, and activities providing support and engaging with families.

Continually providing accessible events with universal supports for all attendees, as the Bushnell has dedicated itself to, promotes inclusivity and diversity throughout Connecticut for all ages. The Bushnell staff will be organizing an advisory committee to develop more sensory-friendly events and to continue to provide supports to increase access. If you are interested in participating in the committee or providing feedback, please contact Catt Gruszka at CGruszka@bushnell.org.  If you would like to learn more about the Assistive Technology Program, additional community projects, or other programs at SCSU, please contact Lauren Tucker at tuckerL7@southernct.edu.

Busnell Performing Arts logoVisit their website to learn more about the sensory-friendly series: https://bushnell.org/visit/sensory-friendly-relaxed-programming