Published on 22 August 2017

The Esplanade strives to make arts accessible to children with special needs, as seen with their upcoming sensory-friendly performances of “Koko the Great”.

By Melanie Lee

Image courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

The theatre is often perceived as a place that needs to be quiet and full of rules – an environment that is unsuitable for children with special needs. However, according to Chua Lik Ling, Head, Children & Youth, The Esplanade Co Ltd, the Esplanade saw the need to open more doors for this community to discover and appreciate the arts.

“Since early 2016, we have established regular sensory-friendly performances for PLAYtime!, an interactive theatre series for children aged 2-4 years old (though children of any age can watch these plays as well). We wanted to create a friendly and welcoming environment for this community to come into the theatre,” Chua said.

A sensory-friendly performance is modified to accommodate sensory sensitivities while still maintaining the integrity of the show. Some of these changes include brighter lights with no complete blackouts, consistent sound levels with no surprising and loud sounds, a smaller audience capacity to allow for more space and movement, a relaxed environment where the audience can enter and exit the theatre space freely, as well as a calming space (with fidgets available) within or adjacent to the theatre for those who need to take a break from the performance.

On top of these modifications, a pre-visit guide written as a visual story can be downloaded from the Esplanade website to help parents and teachers to prepare the children for their visit. There’s information on the production along with pictures of characters, costumes, sets and sound clips of songs.

The feedback for such performances so far has been positive. Chua recalled, “A parent told us that the success of the performance should not be judged by whether the children appear to enjoy it, because for the parents, teachers and therapists, it was already a success that the Esplanade was allocating performances for children with special needs.”

Besides “Koko the Great” by Natalie Hennedige, this year’s PLAYtime! Season features “The Friendliest Cockroach” by Gavin Goo, as well as “Fatimah and Her Magic Socks” by Zizi Azah Bte Abdul Majid.

Image courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Image courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Koko the Great is about a boy’s terrific kampong adventure along a river and is inspired by Liu Kang’s famous “Life by the River” painting. The Sensory Friendly Performances of Koko the Great will be on 23, 24 & 26 August 2017 at Esplanade Theatre Studio. Click here for more information.

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