Sensory-friendly panto returns to Backstage Theatre, Longford

Jodie McCormack

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Jodie McCormack

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newsroom@longfordleader.ie

Wizard of Longford

Cast members in full rehearsal mode for BYT panto, The Wizard of Longford

The Backstage Youth Theatre (BYT) will run a sensory friendly panto in addition to their annual panto run for the second year in a row starting this January in Backstage Theatre in Longford.

The idea for the sensory friendly panto was born last year when a parent reached out to the theatre group and suggested putting on a show that children with autism and other special needs could enjoy.

BYT who are based in the local Backstage Theatre were immediately open to the idea and began working with a committee of parents and a therapist advisor to get the idea up and running.

BYT Chairperson Paul Higgins said; “The feedback from parents last year was great.”

He outlined how, by working with parents and an advisor, they were able to decide what in the panto they could and couldn’t use for the sensory friendly version.

The amount of dialogue in the shows is reduced and a lot more focus put on singing and dancing to make the show more interactive for the children.

Several quiet rooms are set up to allow children a break from the show, these rooms include play mats, balls and mini trampolines to help the children work out their anxiety should they become overwhelmed.

The audience of the show is limited to 100 people and there are no queues prior to the show which might overwhelm or upset the children.

Josephine Feeney, a local mother said; “It’s great to see a community like Longford open their doors to autistic children and make them feel part of a community.”

Josephine worked as a parent advisor for the sensory friendly panto committee last year, working closely with the group to advise on what would be suitable for children like her own son.

By working with the committee, she was able to help them identify what might be upsetting for the children and make small adaptations such as taking out the villain along with any loud noises or surprises that could alarm the children during the panto.

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She was also active in setting up tours of the theatre prior to the panto so the children would be aware of their surroundings and more comfortable during the show.

In addition to this, the auditorium doors are left open during the show and the lights left on.

Keeva Duke, who was an actress in the sensory friendly panto BYT put on last January, described why she wanted to be involved in the show.

She said; “Unfortunately people with these types of disorders don’t get thought about nearly enough in theatre and I wanted to feel like I was making a difference I suppose.”

She outlined how the cast went to various workshops before the show where they were educated on the conditions that some of the children expected at the shows would have and how they might react to the show.

The cast were also taught sign language to help include the children and communicate with them even more in key moments of the panto.

The cast and committee were eager to put on this sensory friendly panto and to get it right to make sure these children got to enjoy the show like anyone else and now Keeva is calling for more groups to follow suit with similar activities.

She said; “It is important to build up awareness for these types of shows to ensure they keep happening in more and more places. The amount of people it benefits should outweigh the costs in this case and trust me when I say all the hard work is worth it in the end.”

BYT’s panto, The Wizard of Longford, runs from January 24 to February 1, with the sensory friendly panto at 12pm on February 1.

Tickets are available from the Backstage Theatre website and box office, Farrell and Coy or by calling the theatre on 0433347888.

Read also: The Wizard of Longford returns to Backstage