Mirvish Offers Relaxed Production of Come From Away

  April 26, 2019  
By Tara Deschamps Special to the Star
Thursday April 25, 2019

A smile spreads across Alan Sankoff Poste’s face every time his mother mentions his May 26 plans to catch the hit theatre production Come from Away.

The show is bound to be a special one for the 29-year-old. Not just because it’s a birthday treat and his aunt Irene Sankoff and uncle David Heinare are the creators of the award-winning musical about how residents of Gander N. L. sheltered thousands of stranded plane passengers following the 9/11 attack, although those are important too.

But for the first time at any Mirvish performance — and any show Alan has attended — the lights will barely dim, there will be a warning before any bright flashes or loud noises on stage and, if the production is too much, an easy way to slip away to a designated quiet area.

The cast of COME FROM AWAY - Canadian Company

The cast of COME FROM AWAY - Canadian Company, Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2018.

These “relaxed” performance adjustments are designed to accommodate people with autism, like Alan, and others with sensory or communication disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities or difficulties in frenzied settings.

“This is overwhelming in a good way ... and very heartwarming,” said Alan’s mother Adrienne Sankoff Poste, who has to meticulously plan activities and trips to meet her son’s needs.

Previous theatre outings involve making sure they are seated away from the speakers where they can slip out without disturbing anyone. “So it will be nice to be able to do this,” she said.

Amid the rising awareness of autism and ADHD, such relaxed experiences have become available at Cineplex movie theatres, the Royal Ontario Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium and some locations of Chuck E. Cheese and Sky Zone Trampoline Park. For some attractions, inclusiveness has manifested in special screenings or visiting hours, while others have created guided tours, apps and dedicated staff positions to facilitate relaxed experiences.

Sankoff and Hein were keen to put on a relaxed performance of Come From Away in Toronto after being impressed by a similar version in New York and because Alan inspired Sankoff to pursue a career in the medical field.

“I left the theatre program at York University and studied psychology for awhile and was going to be a speech pathologist, but I could never sit through the video of the camera going between the vocal cords without passing out,” Sankoff recalled on the phone from New York.

“My nephew couldn’t come down to New York. He can’t get on a plane so easily ... and there’s the expense ... so I thought the way to get this to happen is to do it in Toronto.”

Alan, who lives in Newmarket, has been gearing up for this trip to the Elgin Theatre for months, especially because Sankoff and Hein also got tickets for family and friends. Alan is plotting a pre-show visit to Tim Hortons and crossing his fingers that his aunt and uncle will let him do some “turning” — on the stage turntable he once played on during a rehearsal.

Before the performance begins, actors will explain to the approximately 700-person audience what they will do on stage and how they might change costumes and roles, so guests are eased into the experience.

Fidget toys, colouring books, earplugs and extra staff will be available to guests who might need them, Sankoff said.

The steps are similar to those Cineplex has taken at its “sensory-friendly” film screenings, which involve 2D projection, increased lighting, lower volumes, a calm down zone and smaller crowds so that guests who need space don’t feel overwhelmed.

Cineplex has hosted hundreds of sensory-friendly screenings and will soon offer such showings for Toy Story 4, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu and The Secret Life of Pets 2 — films less likely to make guests uneasy because they have less violence, swearing and conflict, said Cineplex spokesperson Sarah Van Lange.

“It’s the rare program we want to ensure doesn’t have heaps of people,” Van Lange said of the initiative from the company’s inclusivity team and Autism Speaks Canada.

At Ripley’s Aquarium, the sensory-friendly days increase the lighting, turn down the music and open a quiet room.

Meanwhile, the ROM and the Toronto Zoo have implemented MagnusCards, an app geared toward teaching those with autism and cognitive needs what the attractions have to offer and how to navigate them.

Adrienne is pleased that the number of sensory-friendly offerings have rapidly grown since her son was young, though she wishes more programming focused not just on children with challenges but on those of any age.

It’s a sentiment Sankoff and Hein share. They’re hoping their sensory-friendly performance will encourage other theatre productions and companies hosting events and activities to follow suit.

“Our show is about people from all around the world with incredible differences all being welcome,” said Hein. “I just hope that philosophy can extend beyond the theatre walls because it’s so necessary right now.”

More information and tickets to the relaxed performance of the Mirvish production of Come From Away