In 2021 the ASO created and presented its first Relaxed Concert – Milli, Jack and the Dancing Cat. We spoke with Emma Perkins, Tutti Violin, about the development of the concert.
Emma: The idea of the Relaxed concerts is to provide an opportunity for people with disabilities, or families with children with disabilities and additional needs, to attend an orchestral concert in an environment that is safe and comfortable. The hope is that we can create an opportunity for those people who might not normally feel comfortable coming to public concerts to actually come and experience what we do, because we really want it to be accessible for everybody. An orchestra is a wonderful creative gem and should be here for the whole community!
There are lots of different reasons why people might not feel comfortable attending a concert, although of course we don’t intend for it to feel this way. At a standard concert there’s a perception that you need to sit quietly in your seat and not get up and move around. There can be a lot of stimulus that can be difficult for people – bright lights, unexpected loud noises in the music and people clapping at the end which can sometimes be a bit triggering. Even the thought of coming to an unfamiliar venue and not knowing how the concert will run and what will be played can be daunting and anxiety-inducing.
I volunteered to be part of the process of developing this relaxed concert, from a player point of view but also from the perspective of being a parent – I have experience with special needs children and children with extra challenges. I felt really strongly that there’s not anywhere near as much opportunity for these audiences to experience live performance, and I wanted to help remedy that.
I didn’t play in the first concert we performed – I deliberately attended it with my children so that we could experience it from the audience. This meant that we were able to give feedback and talk about some things that might be able to be tweaked to enhance the experience for the audience.
In designing the concert and the space, we tried to think about different environmental elements that would help to create a controlled, calming and safe environment. We used lower lighting and took out some extremes, including the extreme lows and highs of sound. We advised the audience when there were louder pieces coming up so that they had time to prepare in whatever way they needed (for example, some might put on headphones whilst others might prefer to move further from the sound). There were also breakout spaces available in the foyer, so that people knew it was okay to leave whenever they needed.
We tried to prepare people for the experience as much as possible with extra information provided before the performance, including links to audio tracks of the repertoire that would be played, and a visual story about the event and venue. The “unknown” is quite a fear factor for some audience members and we tried to eliminate this by giving people information about what they might expect when they arrive at the concert.
Children with disabilities and additional challenges need to be engaged and have fun just as much as any other children – they still need education, stimulation and joy in their day. The idea was that we very carefully tailored the program to accommodate those extra needs but still made it a fun and well-rounded program.
The audience reception was really positive. Some kids wanted to get up and dance, which is always lovely to see, while others obviously just wanted to experience it in a quiet, calm manner. It was a wonderful and important thing to do and I hope that we can continue to build on this project in the future.
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