Autism Friendly Austin, Summerset partner for showing of ‘Mary Poppins’

Published 6:18 pm Friday, July 15, 2022

Summerset Theatre and Autism Friendly Austin are joining forces to present a sensory friendly/relaxed production of “Mary Poppins” at Riverland Community College’s Frank W. Bridges Theater at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6.

Both organizations recognize that theater/music enthusiasts with autism, sensory processing challenges, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder and many other cognitive/mental health challenges have unique and varying sensory needs and sensitivities.

The inaugural sensory friendly/relaxed performance will have sensory supports and modifications balanced with the engaging theater experience desired by all children and families.

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What can be expected at a sensory friendly performance?

• Theater house lighting left low, not turned off;

• Reduced sound volume

• Quiet/sensory space available adjacent to the theater;

• Ability to move about (or even exit the theater for a time if necessary) during the performance;

• Additional staff to assist audience members;

• Sensory supports available (example:  noise canceling headphones, fidgets, weighted blankets etc.); and

• Access to a sensory guide and social narrative available prior to the performance.

“Summerset Theater became a certified Autism Friendly location back during COVID, and we had our sights set on providing this opportunity for close to two years now,” said Mary Barinka, community autism resource specialist at the Hormel Historic Home. “It’s so exciting to have it coming to fruition. Youth attending the three autism summer camps hosted by the Hormel Historic Home are provided free tickets and accommodated seating for the event, courtesy of Summerset Theatre. “It’s been a long time coming and a collaborative effort.”

The groups consulted with Gina Brady, OTR/L senior therapist, sensory supports and training program manager at Fraser, Minnesota’s largest and most experienced provider of autism and early childhood mental health services. (

“Summerset Theatre values creating accessible theatre experiences for all individuals and is committed to increasing access and inclusion. We have cast many talented actors on the autism spectrum and those experiencing similar challenges described above, so we are eager to offer a successful, enjoyable experience for a neurodiverse audience as well,” said Randy Forster of Summerset Theatre.  “The goal is to offer this type of performance on a regular basis.  We will learn as we go, but are determined to continue this unique opportunity for the Austin community going forward! Everyone is welcome to attend our sensory friendly performances!”