Community Awards lead to autism Panto first

The Community Awards success for Autism Support Crawley has led to The Hawth to hold the town's first autism friendly performance of this year's pantomime.

Monday, 12th December 2016, 3:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th December 2016, 5:12 pm
DM1617882a.jpg Crawley Community Awards 2016. Autism Support receives the Support Group award from Katie Bennett. Photo by Derek Martin. SUS-160320-005148008

In March, the group, which helps people on the autistic spectrum and their families, picked up the gong for Support Group.

The ceremony held in The Hawth put chairman Maria Cook in contact with Hawth general manager Dave Watmore and Peter Pan producer Paul Hendy to put on a special ‘relaxed performance’ for people with the disorder.

People on the autistic spectrum are distressed by some of the things which would otherwise attract someone to see a pantomime.

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Loud noises, lots of unexpected special effects and bright colourful displays can make for a frightening experience for them. These have been toned down with Friday morning’s performance, which is almost sold out.

Maria said: “I’ve wanted this to happen for years and now it is beginning. I haven’t been able to take my son and I know so many other families who can’t. (Children with autism) cannot sit for ten minutes and families just leave because their children cannot cope.

“There’s me with the knowledge and them with the facilities. The Hawth have been so amazing accommodating us. They have done autism training for the box office staff, Paul Hendy is cutting out some of the effects, there will be no interval and no allocated seating. Having to sit in a particular seat doesn’t make sense to someone with autism. The music is going to be a lower volume. It will be very relaxing.”

They are also toning down the foyer area for the afternoon by turning off the background music and only having one Tannoy announcement.

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The theatre has even put together a video which has been supplied to parents ahead of Friday’s performance so that they can prepare their children about what to expect from the day out.

The Hawth’s General manager Dave Watmore and his team are already working on their next relaxed performances.

He said: “An autism friendly or Relaxed Performance as its also called is something we have been keen to try out for some time and its great that its all come together thanks to the efforts of Maria Cook and Paul Hendy and all the team at Evolution Pantomimes.

“The staff here have recently had some additional familiarity training and everyone is looking forward to Friday’s performance - I think as much as the capacity audience are? We’ve taken encouragement from organising this performance and have secured a further Relaxed Performance on April 4 2017 with Northern Ballet’s production of Goldilocks & The Three Bears as well as discussing what we might offer at our next pantomime, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves!”

To make a nomination for this year’s awards go to