PLAYtime! is an interactive theatre series for children aged two to four years old produced and presented by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. Designed to spark children’s creativity and to encourage learning through stories, music and movement, the plays are all original works created by the Esplanade’s director and creative team. Children are encouraged to sing, dance and interact with the actors as the story unfolds.
Since 2016, Esplanade has been staging sensory-friendly works for their PLAYtime! series, so that children and families affected by autism spectrum disorders and other sensory, social, and cognitive disabilities can also enjoy the shows. These sensory-friendly features include:
Brighter lights: No complete blackouts. House lights are slightly brighter at all times.
Adjusted sound levels: Sounds are kept at a consistent level. There’s no surprising and loud sounds.
A relaxed environment: Audience members can enter and exit the theatre space freely. The audience size is smaller to allow for more space and movement.
Calming spaces: You can take your child to a space outside the theatre to calm down. Fidget toys are available for loan.
Pre-event preparation: The Esplanade provides a pre-visit guide, containing a visual story to helps prepare children for what to expect for their visit to Esplanade and the production itself. It also has pictures of characters, costumes, sets, sound clips of songs. This pre-visit guide can be downloaded from the website as early as a week before the first sensory-friendly performance.
The organisers also arrange for 1 or 2 teachers from schools that book performances, so that they are fully aware what the show is about, and know how to prepare their students ahead of time.
We spoke with Ms Chua Lik Ling, Head of Children & Youth at The Esplanade Co Ltd to find out more about their sensory-friendly plays.
EV: What was the inspiration behind this series of sensory-friendly programming?
CLL: As an arts centre for everyone, Esplanade is always conscious of where and how we can serve the different segments of our community better. So, having established a following for our PLAYtime! performances, we looked at what more we could do to bring the arts to even more young audiences.
In 2016, we started presenting sensory friendly performances for our PLAYtime! productions. We wanted to create an environment where families with kids with special needs feel safe and welcomed, and can attend a performance together. The performances are particularly suited for those on the autism spectrum or with sensory sensitivities.