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