This weekend, Roxey Ballet presented a sensory-friendly production of Cinderella at the Kendell Main Stage Theater in Ewing, New Jersey, with sound adjustments, a relaxed house environment and volunteers present to assist audience members with special needs. The production came on the heels of three educational residencies held at New Jersey–based elementary schools in honor of Autism Awareness Month in April.
This isn't the first ballet the company has mounted to better serve audience members with disabilities. Founded in 1995 by Mark and Melissa Roxey, the ballet has upheld its mission of full accessibility through annual sensory-friendly works such as The Nutcracker, The Pied Piper of Hamlin and Mowgli, a ballet based on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. "Our mission is to provide access to dance for all," says founding director Mark Roxey. "A sensory-relaxed show is one that is truly accessible to all."
In addition to lower sound volumes and the removal of sudden lighting and special effects, house lights are kept on at 50 percent so audience members can get up, move around and leave at their leisure. Audience members are free to use iPads and other therapeutic electronic devices. Earplugs and fidget toys are available, and areas of the lobby are designated for both quiet and activity time for those needing a break. In addition, Roxey Ballet enlisted the help of dozens of certified staff and volunteers from autism service agencies, schools and other organizations to assist patrons.
"The dancers are from all over the world and are absolutely exceptional professional artists," says Roxey, noting that combining excellent performance with increased accessibility for all has grown Roxey Ballet's audience and outreach exponentially.
In conjunction with this production, Roxey Ballet partnered with The Rock Brook School, Mercer Elementary School and Northern Hills Academy for 16 weeks to offer a creative dance curriculum to children with autism, cognitive disorders and behavioral disabilities.
For more information, visit: roxeyballet.org/sensoryfriendly