"James and the Giant Peach" will be the backdrop for the Dublin Scioto High School theater department's first sensory friendly performance.

The school will offer the special performance, which provides a safe environment for families with individuals with autism and other disabilities, at 2 p.m., Feb. 24 at the high school, 4000 Hard Road.

Theater director Patricia Santanello said she was inspired to include a sensory friendly performance after learning about them during a workshop at a theater conference she attended in September in Nashville, Tennessee.

She decided to choose "James and the Giant Peach" as the theater department's first foray into sensory friendly performances because the show already features children, Santanello said.

"This seemed like the perfect opportunity to try to do one of these performances," she said.

To help prepare for the event, the theater department worked with the Autism Society of Central Ohio, Santanello said. The special afternoon show will feature open seating with fewer tickets sold. House lights will be left dimmed and students will warn children ahead of time about sudden noises to alleviate stress.

The environment will be a safe one for children to make noise and walk around, Santanello said. Outside the theater two tables will serve as a sensory break area for children.

Sensory friendly performances are important because those on the autism spectrum can become overwhelmed by large crowds and unfamiliar environments, said Ginny Bryan, information and referral specialist with the Autism Society of Central Ohio.

"It allows our families to go out into the community to enjoy a family friendly outing together as a family unit, which is really important," Bryan said.

Dim lights and low noise levels help prevent children on the spectrum from becoming over-stimulated, she said.

This is the first time the Autism Society of Central Ohio worked with a high school to collaborate in preparing a sensory friendly space for a theater performance. Other entertainment venues in Columbus already offer such opportunities, Bryan said.

The New Albany Symphony Orchestra and the Columbus Children's Theater provide sensory friendly performances and movie theaters including Marcus, AMC and the Gateway Film Center provide monthly sensory friendly movies, she said.

Santanello said she'd like to offer additional sensory friendly performances and the theater department also is taking steps to expand accessibility in other ways.

The department applied for grant funding through NBC's R.I.S.E America program, a partnership between the television network and the Educational Theatre foundation to provide $10,000 grants to 50 high schools in the U.S. Winners are expected to be announced mid-March.

Santanello said if Scioto refers a grant the theater department would use the funds to provide a sign language interpreter for shows, a television screen that would display the performances for children sitting in a sensory break area and assisted listening devices to help individuals who are blind better enjoy the shows.

"It was worth a shot," she said.

"James and the Giant Peach" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24 and 2 p.m. Feb. 25 at Dublin Scioto High School. More information can be found at dublinsciototheatre.org.

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