It was around 3pm on an extra cold Thursday when I met Vanessa Braun inside a Crazy Mocha in the Cultural District. A tall man nursing a large cup of coffee near the entrance jumped out of his seat to open the door for Vanessa when she arrived. With a huge smile on her face and her service dog Bear by her side, Vanessa walked through the noisy coffee shop, until I stopped her and introduced myself.
Vanessa is the Manger of Employee Engagement and Director of Accessibility for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Her vision for inclusion in the arts is one of the driving forces behind the February 3rd Autism-Friendly performance of WICKED, presented by PNC Broadway In Pittsburgh.
I talked to Vanessa about how Autism Friendly performances began in the Pittsburgh area. She told me, the inclusive shows began in 2013, with a performance of The Lion King; and since then Pittsburgh has become a leader in sensory friendly arts.
Why is accessibility for people with disabilities so important to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust?
At the Trust we think of ourselves as stewards of the Cultural District. In being stewards of this 14-block area, we want to include as many people from the community into our programming as possible; it’s one of our core values, it’s a part of our mission and who we are. We want everyone to feel as if this region of Pennsylvania is theirs.
How did Pittsburgh did get involved with Autism Friendly performances?
In 2011, Theatre Development Fund in New York City, started this whole initiative in doing Autism Friendly programming; they saw a need in the New York City community to have theatre reach this particular population. What brought Pittsburgh to it (also holding Autism Friendly shows); is a couple of members of our staff were at the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) Conference, and saw a presentation, and we thought; if they are doing it in New York, why can’t we do it here in Pittsburgh? The Lion King was Pittsburgh’s first go around with Autism Friendly performances, the Ballet followed up with a sensory friendly performance of the Nutcracker, and the Symphony has also joined in.
Why did you guys select WICKED for the second Autism Friendly performance, and how is it different from the original production?
Actually, we approached WICKED; we knew that they had done an Autism Friendly performance twice on Broadway. We put a lot of thought into the fact that the show is not as family friendly as The Lion King (Wicked has an advisory for children 8 and up). WICKED is also a musical that doesn’t come to mind when you think about a performance that can be transformed into an Autism Friendly show, because there are so many effects. The introduction of the flying monkeys can be startling to some guests. The changes mainly involve light and sound; turning down the decibel level and taking out the light that flashes into the audience.
How many guests are expected for the Autism Friendly show?
From a ticketing perspective, it’s kind of hard to say right now. For The Lion King, we had a little over 2,400 in the theater; for that show it was considered a sold-out performance. At the Cultural Trust, we try to be as inclusive as possible. If anyone ever has comments, suggestions, or an idea; contact us. We’re happy to make anything here in the Cultural District more opening and welcoming.
FROM THE CULTURAL TRUST
Slight adjustments to the autism-friendly production of WICKED on Saturday, February 3, at 2:00 p.m. will include reduction of jarring sounds or strobe lights focused into the audience. Audiences will enjoy a Broadway theater experience in a judgement free environment. Staffed quiet and play areas will be open in the lobby before and during the performance. Specially trained volunteers will provide audience support.
Ticketing Information: Autism-Friendly performance of WICKED, Benedum Center
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is proud to offer special prices for all patrons on the autism spectrum who would like to attend this Broadway show with their family and friends. Only members of the community who have a family member or friend on the Autism spectrum or who are in need of a sensory-friendly environment themselves may purchase tickets to this autism-friendly performance of WICKED. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust welcomes family and friends to experience the show together. A number of questions must be answered to complete the ticket transaction. You will not be able to print your tickets at home and you will not receive your tickets until two weeks prior to the show.
• Orchestra & Director’s Circle Tickets: $49
• First Tier: $39
• Second Tier: $19
WICKED on stage at the Benedum Center, from January 24 through February 11, 2018, is a season special of the 2017-2018 PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series, presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Broadway Across America. For tickets to all other performance dates and times call, 412-456-4800 or visit www.TrustArts.org.
WICKED, the Broadway sensation, looks at what happened in the Land of Oz…but from a different angle. Long before Dorothy arrives, there is another young woman, born with emerald-green skin—smart, fiery, misunderstood, and possessing an extraordinary talent. When she meets a bubbly blonde who is exceptionally popular, their initial rivalry turns into the unlikeliest of friendships…until the world decides to call one “good,” and the other one “wicked.”
From the first electrifying note to the final breathtaking moment, WICKED—the untold true story of the Witches of Oz—transfixes audiences with its wildly inventive story that USA Today cheers is “a complete triumph! An original musical that will make you laugh, cry, and think.”