The first time I experienced a story ballet was when I was cast as one of Isadora Duncan’s students in the English National Ballet’s Isadora Duncan. I was ten years old and the English National Ballet was touring in Toronto. I remember the details vividly… my costume fitting for my Isadora-style tunic, being chaperoned around the stage by Monica Mason who was playing the role of the “nanny”. Each night I found a spot in the wings to watch the tragic death scene. The genre of story ballet captured my heart and transported me. This love never left me. When I was in the National Ballet of Canada corp de ballet during Romeo and Juliet, I stood in the wings in my peasant costume and watched all the big scenes. I was fascinated by how dancers interpreted the story differently within the frame of the choreography. I stood there transfixed. I loved the feeling of my heart breaking and rebounding. I felt alive. Giselle, Napoli, Taming of the Shrew, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The Right of Spring, Sleeping Beauty, The Merry Widow, West Side Story… they are all in my blood.
When I was starting out as a choreographer there was a push towards abstraction in both the ballet world and the modern dance world. I remember an esteemed choreographer seeing my work at a National Ballet Company choreographic workshop saying, “it’s all too personal and too emotion based”. At the time, I was twenty and trying to find my way as a woman choreographer. I could’ve taken his advice and moved towards abstraction. But I had a stubborn steak in me and always seemed to do things differently than others. I let his advice point towards that which I loved and could be good at with practice. And to this day, I continue to move towards story-based work. In “Frames of Control” (1996), I told the story of recovering from an eating disorder. In “Long Live” (2010) I told the story of a daughter grieving the death of her dad. In “Men’s Circle” (2017) I told the story of men in a therapy group. In “Thread Bound” (2019), Suzanne Liska and I told personal stories of epigenetic inheritance from our grandmothers. These pieces were multidisciplinary. I used a pallet of ballet, modern dance, contact dance, text and song. But at their heart they were following the dream a ten-year-old sitting in the wings, her heart breaking and rebounding with each dancer’s steps.
I was on this path when a life changing event happened that re-adjusted my course. My youngest son was diagnosed with high functioning autism. The psychologist gave me an autism symptom check list and told me how my son had received his diagnosis because he had so many checkmarks on the list. I looked at that list and discovered that I had all the same check marks and then some! In that moment I realized I had high functioning autism.
It is common for women with autism to be so good at masking their symptoms by learning social patterns and relying on coping strategies that they often don’t get diagnosed until their 30s to 40s. Seeing life through the lens of a diagnosis of high functioning autism shifted all my past and present stories about myself. I turned the kaleidoscope just one turn and saw how different everything looked. It explained so much about why I tend to do things differently than others, my unique look on life, my challenges with career networking, the way I follow my own path without wavering, my sensory challenges, how I get sensory “hang-over for days after a big social outing and so on. I did not want my son to feel ashamed about having autism and I was his main example. I realized it was my job to go forth in life without shame and to embrace my autism. This new way of seeing myself started to change the way I told stories.
Accepting and embracing my disability led me to be curious about a movement called Cripping the Arts. “Cripping” is a term that reclaims the pejorative term crippled to enable people with disabilities to take back power and ownership over their bodies and minds. Cripping the arts is a movement that describes a process of adapting/ re-writing the script of the traditional theatre experience to be more accessible and inviting to both performers and attendees with disabilities. I realized that simply by having autism and telling stories through my unique lens I had been cripping the story ballet for years without realizing it. But I wanted to step further into this movement and started by offering relaxed performances.
A relaxed performance is an inclusive performance practice in which the traditional theatre rules are relaxed to be more welcoming to audience members who are neurologically atypical including, but not limited to, those with autism spectrum disorder, Tourette’s, concussion syndrome, sensory and communication differences, learning disabilities as well as other ways of being.
The first relaxed performance I produced was during the run of “Thread Bound” and it moved me to tears. I was creating an inviting atmosphere for people like me. I felt a tension relax in my body that had been so constant that I did not realize it was there. My crew was uncertain about the endeavor. We had never done this before, and I could feel the sense of stretching and letting go it took. My stage manager asked me, “so you really want me to say that people are allowed check their phones during the show?!”. I said, “if knowing they can use their phone reduces anxiety enough so that someone can attend a show who otherwise might not, then yes I want that.” We offered free ear plugs to anyone who needed at the venue. My box office person said, “only one person took a pair of sound canceling ear plugs, so maybe next time we skip offering them”. I responded that even if no one takes any it sends a message that we see you. I explained how seeing people is a vital part of cripping the arts. A ramp says to those in wheelchairs, “we see you”. Offering free sound canceling ear plugs says, “we see you” to those with sensory processing disorders. Audio description services says, “we see you” to those with vision loss.
Jessica Watkin is an artist-scholar living in Toronto, who is blind and disabled. She describes in a Toronto Star article how accessibility is not so much a checklist of protocols to check off but a correction to institutionalized ableism”. I have learned from personal experience that systemic change is needed to remove that barriers to the arts. Theatres do not have the infrastructure to support access initiatives and this leaves the cost of doing so on the shoulders of small producers who often have limited budgets. I would like to see it mandated that all theatres supply in-house audio description equipment. If this occurred, you would see many more theatre companies supply audio description for their performances.
To many institutions, “accessibility” means providing ramps and washrooms to accommodate audience members using wheelchairs. While this is very important, they have missed and important part of the process if performers using wheelchair do not have access to the stage.
Some forms of accessibility are often overlooked with acoustic accessibility being one of them. There is a theatre in Toronto that has a café/ lobby area that one has to walk through and often lineup in to get to the theatre. The ceiling is metal and the din caused by bouncing sound was so painful for me I made a note to never go there again without my sound canceling headphones. The fix is relativity simple and within financial reach for most theatre companies. It would involve buying sound absorbing panels for the ceiling. To have an acoustically pleasant café/lobby would benefit all and would be a much better set up for seeing a play. It also would be an example of how non disabled people often benefit from accommodations made to disabled peoples. It is a win, win. But if people like me are not on their radar this fix will never happen.
In my upcoming project “Dancing with the Universe” I am cripping the story ballet with my friend and colleague Vivian Chong who is a multidisciplinary artist who lost her sight fifteen years ago. In “Dancing with the Universe” Vivian tells her story with an ensemble cast of six dancers and cellist Cheryl O. We are co-directing together, and audio description of the choreography is key so that Vivian can have a sense of what is happing on stage and makes sure we are telling her story though movement as she wants it to be told. Cripping the arts for me is about being disability-led. This project does not involve theatre experts telling Vivian how to tell her story. It involves Vivian taking the creative reigns. As the choreographer and co-director, I am in service of her vision. “Dancing with the Universe” will involve a performance with on-stage ASL interpretation, optional audio description via headsets, and a relaxed performance. The performance happens in tandem with the book launch of Vivian graphic memoir “dancing After TEN”, co-created by Vivian and comics artist Georgia Webber. The graphic novel will be in available in hard-cover and audio-described format.
Nothing can ever be one hundred percent accessible due to completing access needs. We can only aim to open up accessibility as much as possible. I invite you to come out and see the show!
In 2005, Vivian Chong experienced a rare reaction to Ibuprofen that caused third-degree skin burns over her entire body. She was put in a medically induced coma. Upon waking, she had to relearn how to breathe, eat and walk and her reaction to Ibuprofen eventually cause complete loss of sight. As her vision deteriorated, she accepted her sight-loss and learned new ways to navigate her environment.
“Dancing with the Universe” is a dance theatre production adaption of Vivian Chong’s one-woman show “The Sunglasses Monologue”. The production is co-directed by Vivian Chong and choreographer Kathleen Rea with dramaturge by Tristan Whiston. Vivian tells her life story alongside an ensemble cast of six dancers and cellist Cheryl Ockrant. “Dancing with the Universe” is a multi-disciplinary journey of human emotions that shines a light on loss, grief and resiliency.
When Vivian was in the process of losing her sight, she was driven to document her medical experiences through drawing. She created the first 100 pages of a graphic memoir before sight loss made it impossible to draw further. This draft stayed on the shelf for twelve years, until she found comics artist Georgia Webber who collaborated with Vivian to bring the rest of her story to the page. Vivian’s graphic memoir “Dancing After TEN” , published by Fantagraphics will have its book launch alongside the “Dancing with the Universe” premiere. The book launch will include book sales in paper format and in audio described format.
LOCATION: Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis Street, Toronto. Venue is wheelchair accessible
Thursday, April 9, 10, 17 AND 18 at 8 pm – “Dancing with the Universe” Production
Sunday, April 12 at 3 pm – “Dancing with the Universe” Production and “Dancing After TEN” Book Launch. RELAXED PERFORMANCE with ASL INTERPRETATION and AUDIO-DESCRIPTION
FUNDING: This project received project funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and the National Ballet of Canada’s Open Spaces Residency. REAson d’etre dance production currently also receives operation funding from the Toronto Arts Council.
ACCESSIBLE BOX OFFICE:
http://bit.ly/DancingAfterTEN where you can buy tickets for the 3pm matinee (April 12, 2020) performance and book launch.
https://dancingwiththeuniverse.eventzilla.net/ where you can buy tickets for all the “Dancing with the Universe” performances (various dates April 9 to 18, 2020).
Ashley Belmer https://www.b-rebelcommunications.com/
I recently performed the final show in the “Thread Bound” run as a relaxed performance and many people asked me what that means. Some thought it meant the audience needed to participate. Some thought it meant performers only perform at 2/3 their regular energy level. Some said they did know what it meant and it sounded a bit scary so they decided to avoid it. So today I am going to tell you what a relaxed performance is.
To clear up these misconceptions, I’d like to say that audience participation is NOT something that is added to a relaxed performance and the performers WILL still go all out and perform at their usual full intensity and artistry!
A relaxed performance is an inclusive performance practice in which the traditional theatre rules and expectations are relaxed and/or presentation is specifically designed to make theatre more welcoming to audience members who are neurologically different from the norm. Relaxed performances are sensitive and inviting to theatergoers who may benefit from a more relaxed environment, including, but not limited to those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Tourette’s, concussion syndrome, sensory and communication disorders, learning disabilities as well as other ways of being.
People who are neurologically different may have sensory-processing challenges that make light, sound and touch feel different: Sound might seem extra loud or a bright light cue might feel painful for them. Differences in processing speed might mean that it takes a while to understand what is being said on stage. The emotional intensity of a play may seem unbearable without access to their regulatory stims such as rocking or making sounds. They may experience claustrophobia at the thought of having to sit still in a theatre seat for an hour. They may feel anxieties about audience etiquette as they strive to figure out what the social theatre rules are. All these different types of experiences may feel overwhelming and make theatre in a traditional setting not accessible to them.
Every production company will design their relaxed performances differently. Whatever the choices they make, it is important to remember that a relaxed show will never make a production 100% accessible. Nothing is every 100% due to competing access-needs. I will give an example from my personal life to help define competing access-needs. Both my son and I have high functioning Autism. Sometimes he needs to makes a clucking noise to feel right in his body and sometimes I need to repeat a specific sentence over and over to feel right in my body. The thing is that both our self-regulating stim methods drive the other person to distraction and irritability and thus represent completing access needs. What is helpful to one person might interfere with access for another.
A vital aspect of relaxed performance is that the artistic excellence of the production and director’s vision remain unchanged. Rather it is everything else that surrounds the production that may be adjusted to be more welcoming.
So what are the type of things might be involved in a relaxed performance?
- House (audience) lights may be kept at a dim level rather than completely turned off
- people may be invited to leave the theatre during the show and the re-enter of they want or need.
- audience members may be asked to be aware of people’s needs to move or make noise.
- sound and lighting cues may be adjusted to be less startling or intense
- “fidget” devices such as hand spinners may be welcome and yes this may even include the use of cell phones or other devices as long as they are kept in quiet mode.
- self-regulation support items such as weighted blankets may be welcome or provided.
- a copy of the script may be provided in advance so people can prepare or gain an understanding of the content on their own time.
- description of possible triggers may be explained to the audience prior to the show.
- earplugs or sunglasses may be provided.
- people may be told its okay to plug their ears whenever they need to.
- people may be given advanced entrance or a longer time than usual to leave the theatre to help them avoid crowded theatre aisle or lobby.
Since all relaxed performances differ in how they provide a more relaxed setting, it is vital that what is being provided is outlined at the time of ticket purchase. This enables theatergoers to get a sense of whether the production will be accessible for them. For instance, sometimes a director will decide that turning down the music or light level will not work for a particular scene because the performers need that level of intensity. So earplugs may be provided instead of lower music levels. If you cannot stand the feeling of earplugs you may decide to bring your own noise-canceling headphones or decide not to go.
Production companies should not shorten their program by cutting out scenes as part of a relaxed performance. By doing this, they are making choices based on what they think is best for a disabled theatergoer. I offer that production companies put the choice in the hands of the theatre-goer. Present your full production and let the theatergoer make their own choice to self-edit by leaving the theatre for moments if they need or to want to.
Recently, my dance company REAson d’etre productions did a relaxed performance of “Thread Bound”.
This is how we designed the show to be more welcoming to those with neurological-difference:
- Music was played slightly lower than usual.
- “Stim” gadgets were welcome, including cell phones or devices as long as they are in quiet-mode.
- audience were asked to be aware of people’s needs to move or make noise
- people could leave and come back in as needed.
- script was sent to attendees ahead of time so they could process the meaning of the text and work-through/prepare for possible triggers on their own time.
- ear-plugs and sunglass were provided at the box-office to be worn in sections in which blinking-lights and sound levels might be painful for some.
- description of possible triggers was given prior to the performance.
After the performance, the box office manager said, “providing earplugs was a waste of money as hardly anyone used them.” He guessed that people who needed earplugs had brought their own and suggested that for the next relaxed performance we forgo supply them. I explained that even if no one had used our earplugs that they were still an important relationship-building tool. As a person with Autism if I arrive at a show and saw that earplugs were provided I get a sense that who I am is visible and my needs are being considered. This is a wonderful moment of being seen that builds a positive relationship between me and the producing company even if I had brought my own earplugs.
Photo credit: Suzanne Liska and Kathleen Rea in Thread Bound
If you are left scratching your head at why socks are such a big issue for some kids then you have never experienced a child in a full-on sock meltdown. When a child with sensory issues experience discomfort with how their socks feel…. how they bunch up, or have seams, or do not stay up or aren’t the right color, the feeling can intolerable. For them, it can feel like real physical pain and they do what any person would do who is in severe pain…. they kick, scream, thrash, cry and yell.
For my nine-year-old son Wyatt, who has high functioning Autism, comfortable socks are super important for him. The other day I noticed that his favorite McGregor Happy feet socks were all developing holes! I tried to order more only to find McGregor had discontinued their kid’s line. I panicked, with visions of meltdowns. Then I rallied and after a week of careful research, I bought the four socks in this review.
Wyatt agreed to help out other kids and parents by helping me create a sock review and out of hardship the Best Kids, Socks for Sensory Feet Review was born!
Price: $13 US for one pair of socks
Fabric make-up: 74% Nylon 21% Merino Wool 5% Lycra/Spandex
Fabric thickness: medium
Texture: A bit rough on the outside but softer on the inside. After several washes, they soften up some. As with most patterned socks, there are some threads on the inside but Wyatt didn’t mind this. Also, the sock has such a firm feel on the foot that these threads do not bother my son because the sock does not move around. Also, they have some socks with less patterning (so fewer thread bits) so if it is a problem just get those ones.
How seamless are they? They are virtually seamless socks. The seam feels like a change in texture rather than a ridge. If you turn them inside out there is a thread coming from the end of the seam on both sides but that can be trimmed if needed. I think it all works for Waytt because once he gets the perfect sock placement the socks stay put. So things like changes in texture or threads that bother him on other socks do not bother him with these socks.
Stay up and bunchiness: These socks are the best on the list for staying up and staying put! No slipping, no bunching, and no blisters.
Rain boot test: These socks past the rain boot test with flying colors!
Durability: Darn-tough has a lifetime guarantee. A friend of mine had a pair that got holes after fives years. He returned them and they sent him new ones. So their lifetime guarantee and return policy is for real. So these socks are definitely the most sturdy on the list. The durability of these socks prevents I believe will help avoid meltdowns for Waytt. Change can be hard for kids on the Autism spectrum. Once they get used to a certain feel and look of a sock having to get new socks even if they are the same brand can be very upsetting. With this sock, they will have the same feel, and pattern until they grow out of them and need the next size up. For me, this is the best part of this sock.
Size: Fit as expected. Please note darn Tough has juniors sizes (9-kids to 6-youth US sizes) but does not have sizes for very small kids.
Color and style: Great fun patterns. Darn Tough does sell sock with less fancy patterns than the ones we bought and these have fewer threads on the inside.
Odor: Naturally Antimicrobial Mareno wool repels bacteria and odor
Sock Melt Down Prevention Meter: 10/10 in our house (but some kids might not like the threads on the inside and the subtle seam might not be subtle enough)
Summary: The most expensive sock of this review initially does not seem like the favorite because it was not as soft or seem-free and not completely seam-free. Although after much wear holds up better under scrutiny on many counts. In the end, these fun patterned socks that last forever, stay-put even after a good run and have tolerable seams are Wyatt’s favorite in the Best Socks for Sensory Feet Review.
Price: $10.99 US for three-pack ($3.66 US per pair of socks)
Fabric make-up: 76% Cotton, 22% Nylon, and 2% Spandex.
Fabric thickness: thin
How seamless are they? There is still a small seam. There are little bumps on each seam-end. If you turn them inside out there is a thread coming from the end of the seam on both sides which has been reported to bother some kids but can be trimmed if needed.
Stay up and bunchiness: The ribbing at the ankle is somewhat slouchy and they tend to slip down. They move around some which put them at risk for bunching up.
Rain boot test: These socks moved around in rain boots and slip off
Durability: They are reported to last over a year of regular wearing.
Size: Fit as expected
Color and style: Only dark of white socks to pick from in Jefferies’ seamless variety.
Odor: Not especially made for odor prevention although they are 75% cotton so should do okay on the smell front.
Sock Melt Down Prevention Meter: 8/10
Summary: The most economical sock of this review holds up reasonably well under scrutiny on many counts. Some parents say there were too many bumps and seems for their kids and others say these socks work well for sensitive feet. Not the right socks for those that want their socks to stay up in rain-boots.
Price: $16.60 US for three-pack ($5.53 US for one pair of socks)
Fabric make-up: 75% bamboo, 22% polyamide, and 3% spandex.
Fabric thickness: Medium thickness
Overall comfort: Super Soft
How seamless are they? There is still a seam in these but it is hand stitched so you really can’t feel it. There are little bumps on each end side of the seams, but pretty much seamless across the toe area. If you turn them inside out there is a thread coming from the end of the seam on both sides which can be trimmed.
Stay up and bunchiness: They stay up fairly well and do not bunch up too much.
Rain boot test: They moved around a bit but generally stayed up.
Durability: Because they are so soft they tend to pill. The white ones seem to pill more than darker colors for some reason. One sock got a hole after going through its first wash. But this might be an anomaly as the others are faring well.
Size: Fit as expected
Color and style: A few different colors and patterns.
Odor: These socks work wonders as a fix for smelly sweaty feet.” An Amazon reviewer says “It’s amazing how well they work at eliminating stinky feet!”
Sock Melt Down Prevention Meter: 8/10
Summary: These socks are super soft and almost seamless and they were initially Wyatt’s number one choice in the Best Socks for Sensory Feet Review. The properties of Bamboo tends to reduce sweating and odder and so they are also the number one pick for sweaty/smelly feet. However due to to the fact that they pill and may develop wholes quick than other socks on the list they are not mom’s number one pick. The per sock price makes them one of the more economical socks on the list but if they do not last as long as the other socks on the list this their economical price may not pay out over time.
Price: $27.95 US for three-pack ($9.31 US for one pair of socks)
Fabric make-up: 75% cotton, 23% nylon & 2% lycra
Fabric thickness: Thick
Overall comfort: Soft. Except for the top rim/edge of the sock which is scratchy. The way the socks are designed the top rim curls on itself covering up this scratchy bit. They are a tube sock with no defined heel. If you turn them inside out they are the only sock in this review that does not have a thread coming from the end of the seams.
How seamless are they? These truly are seamless socks! There is a tiny bit of gathered fabric were the end-sides of the seem would usually be. There is a slight difference in the knit where the seam usually would be. Several Amazon reviewers said the little bumps on the side still made socks unwearable for their kids. And other reviewers said the sock where the only socks their kids could wear.
Stay up and bunchiness: Does not stay up under rigorous testing. An Amazon review says “they were too big to stay pulled up the way she likes them”. Because they move around and are thick, uncomfortable socks-bunches can occur (how much this happens will depend on the type of show one wears)
Rain boot test: These socks moved around in rain boots a lot. The weave feels loose and more stretchy than the other socks and there is very little elastic at the top to keep the sock up.
Durability: They are thick socks that keep up reasonably well over time
Size: I used their size chart but the socks I ordered seemed a bit big for my son. If I was going to order again I would order a size smaller and I think then they might stay up better and might do better in the rainboot test.
Color and style: Only a few colors to pick from and no fancy patterns.
Odor: high-tech fibers wick away moisture ensuring a drier sock & therefore preventing stinky feet.
Melt Down Prevention Meeter: 7/10
A pricey sock which is truly seamless but seems to come with other issues. They have a top rim that is scratchy and they do not stay up in the rainboot test. Also, they seem to fit big. Wyatt in his Best Socks for Sensory Feet Review said that all the socks in this review are wearable but these were his least favorite. Please know, that even though Waytt did not like them many parents swear by these socks as being a lifesaver. It really depends on your kids and what their sock needs are.
Every kid with sensory issues is different. Figure out what is most important in a sock for your kid and then make your best pick:
|Sock priorities||o||Darn Tough Hiss Micro Crew Light Sock||o||Jefferies Socks Big Boys Seamless Casual Crew||o||Rambutan Kids Comfort Seam Bamboo||o||SmartKnitKIDS Seamless Sensitivity Socks|
|Fabric mix||74% Nylon 21% Merino Wool 5% Lycra||76% Cotton, 22% Nylon, & 2% Spandex||75% bamboo, 22% polyamide, & 3% spandex||75% cotton, 23% nylon & 2% lycra|
|Compression||Offers some compression||No||No||No|
and does it bunch?
|Snug. No slipping, no bunching, and no blister||Loose and bunches||Medium & only bunches a bit||Loose and can tend to bunch|
|Thick/Thin||Medium (Darn Tough also sells cushioned socks if your child likes thicker socks)||Thin||Medium||Thick|
|Texture||Not that Soft (but does soften up some with a few washes)||Soft||Very Soft||Soft|
|Warm||Yes||Not that warm||Yes||Yes|
|Order prevention||Merino wool Naturally Anti-microbial||Not made for odor prevention||Bamboo mix great for odor prevention||High-tech fibers wick preventing stinky feet.|
|Stay up||Very well||Not so much||Yes||No so much|
|Rainboot test||Stay put||Came off in the boot||Stayed up but moved around||Slipped own|
|Fun Patterns||One choice in the seamless variety||Few different colors/ patterns||Only three colors|
|Durability||Last forever||Last about a year||Last about a year||Good durability|
|$s per pair||$9.31 US per||$5.53 US per||$3.66 US per||$13 US per|
|Cost per wear||Over time might be cheapest||Not sure||Not sure||Not sure|
|Sound||Sounds okay||Sounds okay||Sounds okay||Scratchy rim that folds over makes a funny sound|
|Fit||Fit as expected||Fit as expected||Fit slightly smaller than expected||Fit larger than expected|
|Heal||Defined heal||Defined heal||Defined heal||Tube sock|
|Easy to put on||Require some pulling as they have a snug fit.||Easy to put on||Easy to put on||Super easy & no need to face right way (no heel)|
|Other notes||Due to the pattern, there are some threads on the inside. The distinct pattern makes them super easy to match up when sorting laundry.||NA||One sock got hole first wash but this might be an anomaly||Truly seamless and only socks some kids can wear who are super sensitive about seams|
After you figure out, your child’s sock priorities then pick the socks that best deliver for your child needs. I recommend buying a trial pair. Once you find the sock that works for your kid then I think about buying a week’s worth if you are able… or maybe even two weeks worth!
Other socks Wyatt didn’t review that might work