Taking the guesswork and uncertainty out of creating accessible theatre is the aim of a new theatre handbook, written by Katie Querin of Tim Bray Theatre Company in Auckland.
“Even though theatres will have their own methods, it’s useful to have a complete and detailed record as a starting place and a handbook to dip into and consult,” Katie says.
The handbook was started in 2019 alongside Tim Bray Theatre Company’s development of its first sensory relaxed performance, The Santa Claus Show ’19. The first draft was finished in 2022 after the disruption of COVID-19.
Working alongside Katie, her colleagues Gail Rotherham and Tim Bray, QSM provided support and guidance for the project. Feedback was given after the first draft was completed in 2022 to include perspectives from Jeanita Cush-Hunter from Autism Consultancy and Education and Arts Access Aotearoa. The final version of the handbook was published in 2023. The handbook is available online for free.
Tim Bray Theatre Company has led the way in producing sensory relaxed performances in collaboration with local neurodivergent communities. With a history of leading accessibility in theatre for more than 30 years in Auckland, the company believes sensory relaxed shows should be widely available.
This record of the company’s experiences of developing sensory relaxed performances was created as a resource so other theatres and events across the country can also provide accessible theatre options to their audiences. Although it was written primarily to support theatre accessibility for neurodivergent children, it is also inclusive of anyone who prefers a less formal theatre experience.
A less formal theatre atmosphere
“We disrupt theatre etiquette by inviting everyone to enjoy the show in their own way,” Katie says. “Sensory relaxed performances benefit people who are more comfortable in a less formal and supportive theatre atmosphere, including people with anxiety and other mental health distresses.”
Katie Querin is Company Stage Manager and the Access and Inclusion Support at Tim Bray Theatre Company. Her role supports the company’s mission to make their shows, classes and business practices accessible for all.
She runs the pre-and-post show experiences for children who are blind or have low vision; for D/deaf children; and for neurodivergent children. She also stage manages all the company’s professional performances. Since 2019, Katie has pioneered the development of TBTC’s sensory relaxed performances and since 2021, the Deaf Stage Experience.
Katie says the list of resources in New Zealand about sensory relaxed theatre is small. “This handbook is both a resource for other organisations and an invitation to them to share their own knowledge and experiences,” she says. “The more we connect and share what has worked, and what has not, the stronger we can build a diverse, robust selection of relaxed events.”