Regular readers may have noticed that, for all its high points, Astor Place Riot is not known for crusading journalism. I'm generally more interested in writing about celebrity Christmas trees and infant thieves. But this month I started writing for the lovely new website Narratively—a longform publication more interested in my reporting ability than my gibberish-typing. "Very well," I said. "You want non-gibberish? I'll give you non-gibberish!"
I'd always been heart-warmed by the Autism Theater Initiative, a program of the Theater Development Fund that has, at matinees of The Lion King and Mary Poppins, specially tailored productions to meet the needs of those on the autism spectrum. It's a feel-good charity that's actually good for everyone involved—producers included—and thinking about it gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling that writing about theater usually does not produce.
The story went online this morning, along with a spectacular short video by photographer/videodude Emon Hassan. (Whose web series The Third is creepy and excellent, btw.) Here's the lede:
At a matinee of the Broadway show “Elf” on January 5, the audience was oddly restless. When the curtain rose, revealing a rosy-cheeked Wayne Knight wearing a white-and-red suit, a girl screamed, “Hi Santa!” followed by a boy’s cry of ”Quiet!” During the first dance number, as a line of elves popped off tiny little kicks, a child ran down the aisle and pelted a squishy toy at one of the dancers. Without missing a step, the elf made a one-handed catch. Throughout the first act, the audience grew increasingly noisy, but the actors, impressively, remained locked-in.
“There’s no sound like a theater full of autistic people,” says leading elf Jordan Gelber. “It was non-stop, except when there was music or a song. Then it was like all the sounds died away.”
This audience, made up entirely of people on the autism spectrum and their families, was there because of the Theatre Development Fund, a sprawling charity whose Autism Theatre Initiative has been producing afternoons like this since 2011. Several times a year, TDF turns a normally staid Broadway house into an autistic child’s paradise. Once you get used to the noise, you realize this is the happiest Broadway audience you’ve ever seen.
If you liked those words, there are about 1,300 more of them waiting for you over at Narratively. I'm proud of most of the work I do, but I'd say this is one that I feel extra-good about. Read it! Reread it! Tell your friends! And if your friends don't care...make them listen.