Five years ago, Kate Pazakis’s son Michael was diagnosed with autism. “It was life-changing,” she said. “As a parent, I don’t think anyone expects that they will have a child with special needs. It opens your eyes and world to all the different struggles they have.”
Easing those struggles is something that Kate is actively trying to do in her role as Producing Artistic Director at Cape Cod Theatre Company. This summer, she launched the nonprofit’s latest program, Sensory Friendly Nights, geared towards making the theatre more welcoming to autistic children.
To get the program off the ground, the Arts Foundation stepped up with $2,500 in seed funding to support the initiative.
“We’re very, very grateful for this grant,” Kate said. “It’s not only the funds, but the love and support we feel. Not everybody can be open-minded about sensory-friendly options, or some may feel like it’s intrusive. I really love the welcome, open arms the Arts Foundation has for the theatre.”
Sensory Friendly Nights kicked off with the theatre’s outdoor production of “Dragons Love Tacos” which was followed by “The Arkansaw Bear,” in an environment where patrons could get up, walk around and “didn’t feel like they had to be quiet in their seats,” Kate said. “We made sure there were no loud, scary noises to set someone off. Having this grant gives us an extra day of tech to make our shows sensory friendly.”
One element to the program is that shows are produced in such a way that they do not overwhelm the senses – lights are turned slightly up, and the sound is turned slightly down. “It’s really thinking about going into some place where you can have a nice, relaxing, calm experience,” explained Kate.
In the end, it’s truly about what we all expect and want out of the arts – a place that is welcoming for all. “I want the freedom of knowing there’s a place where all kids will be accepted so I can bring my own child to a show and people are not going to wince and say, ‘You’re ruining the performance,’” Kate said.
The ultimate goal is for the theatre to offer a weekly show that is sensory-friendly that is open for all children to experience the joy and wonder of the arts. “I want this to be a place for all abilities and a theatre for all,” said Kate.
Your support of the Arts Foundation makes programs like this possible. Click here to make a year-end donation to the Arts Foundation so we can build an arts sector that is more welcoming and open to all.
And click here to learn more about the important work Cape Cod Theatre Company is doing.