How To Dance in Ohio opens on Broadway December 10. In celebration, Playbill has collected a list of accessibility offerings that can be enjoyed by neurodivergent and neurotypical audience members alike!
Adapted from Alexandra Shiva's 2015 HBO documentary, the show follows the challenges faced by a group of autistic young adults at a counseling center in Ohio. With the support of clinical psychologist Dr. Emilio Amigo, the center arranges a spring formal dance and encourages them as they encounter love, fear, stress, excitement, and hope, along the path to human connection. How To Dance in Ohio is also notable for having autistic actors play autistic characters for the first time on Broadway.
While the show is intended to be sensory friendly, with careful consideration put into the lighting and sound design, the Belasco Theatre itself has been outfitted with two spaces for any audience members who may need a breather. In the lower level, there is a hyposensitivity Sensory Space, with various visual toys and tools to maintain necessary stimulation. In the front of the left mezzanine, there is a hypersensitivity space, complete with a Sensory Nook Pod for those who prefer to feel a bit more closed in so as to center their thoughts. Both cool down spaces are equipped with live feeds of the show, so you won't miss anything!
At the merchandise booth, there are fidget spinners and Calm Strips for sale, as well as KultureCity sensory kits that can be checked out for the duration of the performance: the sensory kits include sound-dampening headphones, light-dampening sunglasses, fidgets, and communication cards.
Additionally, How to Dance in Ohio maintains a robust Resources center that can help you prepare for your trip to the Belasco. It includes a full sensory guide to prepare for any startling sound cues, further information on the Nook Pod and Sensory Space, in depth information on the perspectives depicted within the show, and more.
That's not all. Playbill has combed through the script and accessibility materials for How to Dance in Ohio to define some of the autism-related terms that may be unfamiliar to neurotypical audiences. You can read these definitions below.
A note: language regarding disability and accessibility changes rapidly. These terms and definitions, as outlined by the Autistic Theatremakers Alliance (ATA), are accurate to 2023.
- Over Stimulate: When sensory input overwhelms the boundaries of an individual, often leading to an inability to focus and exhaustion.
- Special Interest: An intense focus on a specific topic which goes beyond the usual passion associated with hobbies.
- Meltdown: Often triggered by overstimulation, autistic meltdowns are the mind's way of releasing pent-up energy and frustration. During a meltdown, autistic individuals can lose control of their body, leading to unintentional self harm.
- Fidgets: Fidget toys are typically small objects with which an individual can carry out a repetitive hand-held task, which helps to release pent up energy and provide mental focus.
- Hypersensitivity: Some autistic folks struggle to process multiple forms of sensory input at a time (think tags in shirts and ill-fitting shoes than can make it impossible to hear what someone is saying to you, because they are all you can think about).
- Hyposensitivity: Other autistic folks struggle with a lack of sensory input, craving stimulation to feel content. This often manifests in a craving for multiple forms of stimuli at once, which can appear chaotic to neurotypicals.
- Script: The pre-planned dialogue of a conversation many autistic people will prepare to ensure they say exactly what they mean in a stressful situation.
- Stimming: The repetition of specific physical movements or vocalizations that can help an autistic individual calm down and express their internal feelings. Some common stims include hand flapping, rocking, knee bouncing, finger flicking, and more.
- Tantrum: Often confused with meltdowns, tantrums can be triggered by overstimulation, being forced off script during difficult situations, or any other number of situations that are difficult to process. Unlike meltdowns, tantrums are conscious and goal oriented; there is a way to fix the root cause in the moment.
- Infodump: The practice of giving immense amounts of information in a brief period of time, metaphorically dumping information at the feet of another party. Infodumping often goes hand-in-hand with special interests.
- Echolalia: the instinctual repetition of sounds. Echolalia is common amongst those with autism, but it is not exclusive to the diagnosis.
How to Dance in Ohio's autism accessibility efforts were led by Autistic Creative Consultant Ava Xiao-Lin Rigelhaupt, Director of Community Engagement Becky Leifman, associate producer Jeremy Wein, production assistant Liz Weber, and script consultant Nicole D'Angelo.