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Autism-Friendly Production of 'The Lion King' Comes to Pittsburgh

Adults and children on the autism spectrum will soon be able to enjoy a special performance of the musical version of Disney’s "The Lion King." It’s is the highest grossing Broadway show in history, but with bright lights and loud noises, the performance is not ideal for theater-lovers with autism.

An autism-friendly performance of "The Lion King" comes to the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh on Saturday through the support of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to revitalizing and promoting the arts in the downtown area.

The special performance — like the traditional stage show — is designed and produced by Disney.

Rona Nesbit, executive vice president of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, said with a few exceptions, the show will still provide audiences with the classic "The Lion King" experience.

“There will be no strobe lights used, there will be no sudden sounds, the house lights will only be dimmed about halfway," she said. "But what many people remember about "The Lion King," some of the most memorable things, the parade of animals coming down the aisle of the theater, that is in the show. All of the other wonderful puppetry and music.”

There will be a quiet space in the lobby, as well as activity areas for families, and trained staff will be on hand to provide assistance and encouragement to patrons.

“The Autism Connection has recruited 100 additional volunteers — many of whom are actually professionals who provide services to that community — for that performance,” Nesbit said.

Tickets will be available at the discounted price of $19 to $49, about half that of the conventional performances. Nesbit said they decided to discount the tickets to encourage whole families — parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles — to attend together.

“We tried to make the tickets as affordable as possible because from what we understand, there aren’t too many experiences that an entire family can experience together in a judgment-free environment,” she said.

Nesbit also felt it was important to offer tickets at a discount because many families of autistic children have a single income, since one parent often must stay at home and is unable to work.

Nesbit said the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has been working to increase accessibility to the arts.

“We felt that this would be a major step in continuing to expand our effort to bring in all types of audiences,” she said.

Pittsburgh is the third American city to produce an autism-friendly performance of "The Lion King," after Houston and New York.

The Benedum Center is located at 237 Seventh St. in Pittsburgh. Traditional performances of "The Lion King" run from Sept. 3-29. Tickets for all performances are available through the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust website.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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