Marissa: I brought my whole family to A Christmas Carol the first year I started here, so that was a lot of fun. And Marley scares me every time.
The first year we did the Touch Tour [for audience members with no or low vision] was really amazing. We didn’t know what would happen, or how many people would attend, and it was an effort across all departments. To see how it’s grown from the first time to now, is crazy.
Mel: A few years ago an audience member said, “We’ve been coming to the show for many years, and wish we could share it with our son.” They explained that he is autistic and wouldn’t be comfortable during a regular performance. And it was like, “Oh, we have to do something about this. What are we going to do?” So we started going to training and learning more about sensory-friendly programming, understanding what it is, and realizing just simple changes need to be made for that audience to experience it.
Marissa: We put together a proposal and just said, “We’re going to make this happen.” This will be the first year we present a sensory-friendly performance for people who are on the autism spectrum. Their families will be able to attend, as well as those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, people who have turrets or different needs. It’s really about making it a safe space, making sure that they don’t get judgmental looks, and that they’re free to move about the theater if they need to step out and back in. They’re free to talk during the performance and the actors won’t stomp off stage or anything. They’ll be welcome here. In a way it feels like this is like the final step in making this show 100% accessible to people. The fact that all these people didn’t have access to A Christmas Carol, we had no idea. So taking this next step was only the right thing to do.
Mel: Plus if it’s a family that just has one person in their family who has a social or cognitive disorder, they might have a brother or a sister too, so this is about bringing in a family and not just that one kid, or one adult. It’s about providing that extra space so they feel comfortable. So our hope is that we really reach out to the families of Chicago (or anywhere!)
Mel: If I could be one character, I think I’d be the Ghost of Christmas Present. First of all, it’s the best costume, with this incredible gown. And I just think it’d be a fun role, to be super happy. I’m totally one of those people.
Marissa: I’d probably be the one who comes out at the end with the turkey. Or maybe the Ghost of Christmas Past, so I could have those abs—that would be great! No, but that’s always the first moment when you see the magic happen, so it’s kind of cool.