A look at Relaxed Performances with Rachel Marks

This fall, the TSO’s Education & Community Engagement team began looking at the possibility of presenting the TSO’s first Relaxed Performance. A Relaxed Performance is a concert designed specifically to be welcoming to patrons who may benefit from a more relaxed environment inside the concert hall. While usually intended for those on the autism spectrum or those with sensory and communication disorders, Relaxed Performances are open to everyone.

With the support of generous donors, we are thrilled to be presenting our first relaxed concert on April 27 at 11:00am. Let’s Dance! will feature live dancers in front of the Orchestra as conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser explores the world of dance music.

In January, the TSO began working with Rachel Marks, a Relaxed Performance Consultant.  Rachel has helped us develop materials for this important concert, including our Visual Guide and fact sheet, and has been helping to advise us on how best to adapt our concert experience. We sat down with Rachel to ask her a few questions:

What is a Relaxed Performance?

Relaxed Performances started in the UK, then came to North America in 2011, and are slowly spreading throughout the arts world. It is a way to engage audiences that previously may not have had the opportunity to attend concerts or plays due to anxiety, sensory sensitivities, the need to move, as well as other reasons. During a Relaxed Performance, house lights stay up a little, sounds cues are dampened, technical changes may be made to the show, and audience members are able to leave the theatre space to take a break if and when needed. A lot of what makes a Relaxed Performance what it is actually takes place before the day of the show—the Visual Guide and fact sheet being tantamount to a successful day for the audience members. The Visual Guide is a step-by-step guide on attending the concert/venue, while the fact sheet is more specific to the content of the show/concert.

What will this concert look like at the TSO?

There will be tables in the lobby with accessibility packs —these contain the fact sheet, perhaps some colouring and fidget toys, and maps of the venue. The house lights will be left up at Libretto level—allowing the audience to see while moving throughout the space. There will be a quiet room set up for anyone who needs to take a break from the concert due to sensory overload, and audience members could even experience the concert via screens in the tunnels that lead to the auditorium if sitting is too difficult for them. The last four rows of the auditorium will be left open so audience members can move there if they would like to get a little distance from the stage. All of these strategies are set up to allow people to experience the concert in a location that makes them feel comfortable and not overwhelmed.

What is your background? How did you get involved working with Autism Ontario?

I come from a theatre background, having worked in Box Office, in Front of House, and as a Stage Manager. I segued into events many years ago and actually worked as an Event Coordinator at Roy Thomson Hall for seven years. I began working for Autism Ontario when I moved to Southeastern Ontario. I have had the pleasure and honour of developing programming for children living on the autism spectrum and their families for the past seven years with Autism Ontario. I also run a theatre school that specializes in improv as a tool to develop social skills for kids with exceptionalities. I have developed programs for the Military Family Resource Centre and some social agencies in Ottawa.

Why do you think it’s important for organizations like the TSO to offer Relaxed Performances?

I think it is so important for organizations like the TSO to lead the way to inclusion via Relaxed Performances. I believe strongly that the arts are for the people—for ALL the people—and with major cultural organizations like the TSO offering Relaxed Performances, other organizations are likely to follow suit. For far too long many communities have felt that experiencing a live orchestra was out of their reach due to their needs, but Relaxed Performances are allowing these people a chance to experience what neurotypical people have for centuries, and that is a beautiful thing. Hats off to the TSO for leading the way and starting Relaxed Performances! I am very honoured to have been involved in their process and look forward to them presenting many more in the future.

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