The outlines of two actors playing giraffes and one playing a lion are shown in front of an orange backdrop
Bass Performance Hall will offer a special sensory-friendly performance of Disney’s "The Lion King" on Jan. 28 at 1 p.m. (Courtesy Bass Hall | Credit Joan Marcus for Disney)

When Bass Performance Hall was scheduling its current Broadway at the Bass season, it was unclear if they would be able to fill the theater for a sensory-friendly performance of Disney’s “The Lion King.”

But, within a month of opening tickets to the public, that performance was sold-out. It now has a waitlist of about 200 people.

“It’s something that we’ve been interested in doing for a long time, but it takes a lot of pieces coming together to make it happen,” Dione Kennedy said. She is the president and CEO of Performing Arts Fort Worth, Inc., which is the nonprofit that operates and manages Bass Performance Hall. 

At every performance, the venue has resources available to make shows more accessible to all patrons, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities, commonly referred to as IDDs.

Guests can check out weighted lap pads and sensory bags that contain noise canceling headphones and fidget toys or utilize a designated quiet space.

But the Jan. 28 performance of “The Lion King” is unique in that it will be the first show at Bass Hall where the production itself has been modified for families and individuals with IDDs.

Some production elements will be adjusted to accommodate the needs of the audience.
For example, during the performance instead of the house lights going out before the stage lights come on, the theater will avoid going completely dark.

“The production itself has to be fully capable of accepting all audience members,” Kennedy said.“The drama is still there and all of the emotions and all of the amazing costumes and scenery will still be there.”

In addition to finding and scheduling a company that offers sensory-friendly performances, Bass Hall worked with local partners to put this event together and connect with families and individuals who would benefit from it. 

The opportunity to help plan the event and give more people the chance to experience a live performance has been exciting, Laura Golden, an occupational therapist at My Health My Resources of Tarrant County, said.

“A lot of productions can be really overstimulating sensory wise for people with IDDs,” she said. “It is an opportunity for people to attend without feeling like they’re being judged by engaging in self-stimulatory behavior, so that could be rocking or hand flapping or making different vocalizations.”

For Golden, having a venue and production that understand those behaviors and allow guests to get up and leave as needed is huge for families.

“They’re in a supportive and welcoming environment because they don’t have to worry about their loved one being looked at because they have headphones on or because they’re making noises,” she said.

Bass Hall was able to offer tickets for a nominal fee with support from the Robert D and Alma Moreton Foundation and the Fort Worth Youth Soccer Association.

“It has been something that many people are very interested in seeing happening, so we were very, very lucky and grateful to get this funding,” Kennedy said.

As of right now, there are no other performances like this on the schedule, but it is something Bass Hall would like to be able to offer again in the future.

“Having an ongoing funding source would be a critical element to enable us to keep doing something like this,” Kennedy said. “There are other productions that we could potentially bring that would have this type of opportunity … But we were thrilled that our first one is such a magnificent production.”  

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.











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Marcheta FornoffArts & Culture Editor

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...