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The Orlando Repertory Theatre offers special showing of “The Cat in the Hat” for children with autism

March 08, 2013

Into the gray nothingness of a dull, rainy day pops the boisterous Cat in the Hat, ready to play. He says,

"I know it is wet

And the sun is not sunny.

But we can have

Lots of good fun that is funny!"

And so the antics begin.

If you’ve ever been enraptured in the wacky wildness that is Dr. Suess, you’re in for an extraordinary treat when you see the book come to life in the Orlando Repertory Theatre’s (The REP’s) performance of “The Cat in the Hat.”

It is pure silliness and fun- childlike exuberance at its best. While the Cat in the Hat entertains his young friends with his tricks, and Thing One and Thing Two run with reckless abandon creating havoc wherever they go, the audience becomes enthralled in the world of imagination and creativity.

As Dr. Suess has introduced generations of preschoolers to the joy of reading, this performance introduces children to a new way of enjoying stories. As Jeff Revels, artistic director of The REP explains:

“We hope that seeing a live show on stage will open a whole new world to our audience- that they develop a love for seeing stories shared with other people and learning more about ourselves and our world. Sharing a communal theatre experience can be a powerful tool in understanding our humanity and place in the world.”

On March 17th at 5:30 p.m., The REP will be presenting its first “sensory-friendly” performance to expand its reach to children with special needs. Children who have autism, Asperger’s or other sensory processing disorders often are unable to participate in movies or theater performances.

Lourdes Quintana, program manager for The Developmental Center for Infants & Children/Early Steps at The Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families describes it this way:

“Children with autism often have challenges with sensory integration, the way we process the information we receive through sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. We experience the world through our senses: the fabric in our clothing, background noises of different intensities, sunlight, a hug, pleasant and unpleasant smells. Most of us learn how to ignore these things, but these things can be overwhelming for a child with autism.”

Bright lights, loud noises, and intense action that may occur onstage can be unbearable for children with these types of sensitivities. And for many, the requirements to remain seated quietly for an extended period of time is a nearly impossible task. Often, because of these challenges, families that include a child with special needs don’t feel that the world of theatre is accessible to them.

However, as Revels explains:

“It is extremely important to us and to all arts organizations, and everyone really, to offer programming for special needs children. We already have a large number of these children and families attending our shows, but we know there are still a huge number being underserved. At The REP our programming is 100% designed for family and young audiences, and we try to ensure that the theatre is accessible to all children.”

After intense research and consultations with experts, The REP has made significant modifications to their performance of  “The Cat in the Hat” for this special audience. And while it promises to be a fun-filled experience for the children, it is more than that.

“It offers these kids a valuable opportunity to share this experience with their family and interact with other children, which provides an excellent learning tool to enhance their social development,” says Quintana.

And, it’s not just the children who are benefitting. As our community reaches out to the children and families who may otherwise feel isolated, we gain a better understanding of the challenges that these families face. We have the opportunity to embrace those who may seem different than we are, and that is an invaluable lesson for all of us.

The sensory friendly performance of “The Cat in the Hat will take place on March 17th, 2013 at 5:30 p.m. Regular performances of “The Cat in the Hat” will continue until March 24th.

For more information regarding The REP’s performance of “The Cat in the Hat” as well as other upcoming shows, visit their website at orlandorep.com.

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