SHADES OF BLUE MAN: Special sensory-friendly show benefits Grant a Gift Autism Foundation
Kate Lowenhar-Fisher fondly remembers the “tons” of New York City theatrical productions she saw with her mom while growing up in the Northeast.
The thought that she might not be able to share those same kinds of experiences with her oldest child — a “wonderful and always interesting” son on the autism spectrum — broke her heart.
“When you have a child that’s on the spectrum, and you want to expose them to theater, there’s always that anxiety that it might be difficult for your child or disruptive to other audience members,” the local attorney says.
Enter the Las Vegas production of Blue Man Group, the long-running show that features three beloved, azure-faced characters known for their colorful hijinks. Since 2015, the show has been staging sensory-friendly performances for children, adults and families affected by autism spectrum disorder, the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States. This year’s performance will be held at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 9 at the Luxor. Blue Man Group will donate $20 of each $36 ticket sold to the local Grant a Gift Autism Foundation.
In addition to raising money — $12,000 last year — for the foundation, the performances give families affected by autism the opportunity to enjoy a show on the Strip together.
“What I love about this partnership is that whole families can participate in theater together,” said Terri Janison, Grant a Gift’s president and CEO. “There’s an acceptance of everybody in there. There’s no judgement if you need to take a break.”
Sensory-friendly modifications to the show include reduced sound and light levels and less direct audience interaction. Earplugs are made available, along with calming areas in the lobby for anyone who might need a break from the excitement. Before each year’s performance, a representative from Grant a Gift visits the show to offer suggestions.
“We’ve learned over the years what moments to tweak,” says Thomas Randall, resident general manager for Blue Man Group Las Vegas.
The first sensory-friendly version of the show was held in Chicago, and the idea quickly spread to other Blue Man locations.
“Over the years, we received letters from fans who have children on the spectrum,” Randall says. “Hearing the stories about how the children connected with the characters started to sink in with us. What an opportunity this would be to provide sensory-friendly shows.”
It felt like a natural fit, as Blue Man Group is all about connecting with others, Randall adds.
“It seemed a good opportunity to connect with the segment of the population who doesn’t always feel that they can connect,” he says. “Everyone comes into our theater as a stranger, but toward the end of our show,” it becomes “a big collective experience.”
That connection can be especially meaningful for audience members who may be nonverbal. The blue men, after all, use music, gestures and visual effects — rather than spoken language — to communicate.
“They do everything up there without having to say anything,” says Melinda Moreno, whose 14-year-old son, Mario, is nonverbal. “We never hear them speak. It’s a different type of communicating.”
Moreno, who lives in South Texas, started a nonprofit called Team Mario after her son was diagnosed with autism. The organization plans events, including an annual field trip, for families affected by the disorder. This year, 15 Texas families — a total of 55 people — will fly to Las Vegas to attend the sensory-friendly Blue Man Group show.
“Many of these individuals wouldn’t be able to participate otherwise, because of the noise and the lights,” Moreno says.
Lowenhar-Fisher’s two sons, 8-year-old Jake and 5-year-old Max, will attend their third sensory-friendly performance of Blue Man Group this year.
Both boys love the show, says their mother, who sits on Grant a Gift’s board of directors. And she doesn’t have to worry about Jake.
“It is the single most relaxing experience for parents” of children on the spectrum, she says. “You can sit back and relax because nobody’s going to blink an eye” if there’s a disruption or your child needs a break. “You’re not just tolerated, but embraced and welcomed.”
Blue Man Group’s sensory-friendly show starts at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 9 at the Luxor. Guests are encouraged to arrive early for a pre-show drum circle. Tickets are $36 and can be purchased online. Sponsorship packages are available and include tickets that can be donated to families affected by autism. For more information about those packages, contact Corinne Spitzer, Grant a Gift’s event manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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