Audience management is extremely important when doing a live show. Poor audience management can result in distractions at best and at worse a lethal stampede. Unfortunately audience management is not discussed often outside the magic community. Audience management can help hold the audience attention on you the performer and enhance the overall aesthetics of the show. When audience management comes up it is in the context of street shows and children shows. I believe there is room for further expansion of the discussion when it comes to Sensory Friendly shows as well. Yes there is an overlap!
I always begin a stand up show with the establishment of some simple easy to follow “ground rules”. Before I began doing Sensory Friendly shows, these ground rules were too simply keep young members of the audience from kicking me in the chin but now that I do Sensory Friendly, they do much more! Before I go into further details allow me to give you a bit of my script:
” If you are enjoying yourself you can clap your hands, stop your feet, jump up and down – just stay near your seat! That will let me know you are enjoying yourself”. Those are the first words the audience hears after my initial introduction. I am 100% aware that there will be neurodiverse members in the audience and not all of them are socially calibrated or psychophysically capable of expressing their enthusiasm the same way their neurotypical peers can. This setting of ground rules also tells the neurotypicals in the audience that not everyone is going to behave the same way and that I do welcome everyone to express themselves as they see fit. For those with ADHD & Autism Spectrum specifically – it sets up guidelines and expectations I have of them to follow. People with ADHD and ASD do well with some structure & authoritativeness.
That’s it. That’s my audience management contingency. But there is more!
I believe an interactive magic show is the best kind of magic show. Before I ever have anyone leave their seat for an opportunity to be a magician’s assistant – I do a group interactive piece. The reason for this is simple – getting up on stage can be intimidating for neurotypicals and neurodivergents alike! I want my audience to feel comfortable first before inviting anyone on stage. I get the entire audience volunteering simultaneously by asking them all to wave their hands, blow, etc. I’m also gauging at who would also make a good volunteer for later on in the show. Pulling someone up from the audience to assist first thing is a recipe for disaster. If the first person you ask to volunteer says no, it is an invitation for everyone else to decline your invite later. You MUST establish comfort first. The best way to do that is to have everyone engaged.
Dealing with neurodiversity in the audience can present some challenges. There can sometimes be instances where you need a volunteer from the audience and you might be surprised that they can’t physically do what you require. Physical limitations is very common in the neurodiversity community. Do NOT mistaken incompetency for stupidity. Before I ever bring someone up on stage I ask them if they CAN come and I follow that procedure of asking each step of the routine in various ways. I do my best to tell them what they will do before anything else – checking to make sure that they are capable. The LAST thing I want is someone to feel embarrassed for not being capable of assisting. Now sometimes that does happen, instead of dismissing that volunteer I will keep them on stage so they can have a VIP view while someone else does the heavy lifting. This doesn’t happen at every show up it has happened enough that I have a contingency for it.
When you are working a Sensory Friendly show, you can expect that there will be people in the audience at all sides of the spectrum, from mild ADHD to nonverbal Autism and everything else in between. BE PREPARED for outbursts and moments of fits, tantrums and ticks. DO NOT engage or be upset when someone has a moment. Let them have their moment. This may eat up into the time you hae or your show and this is why flexibility is important. You should plan for a 1 hour show with only 45 minutes of material. 45 minutes is a good amount of time for the neurodiverse audience – it’s not too long and its not too short either but if you pace yourself and someone has a moment, you won’t run the risk of over extending the duration. My Sensory Friendly show is scheduled for 1 hour but I have never ran it past 55 minutes.
The area of Sensory Friendly Entertainment is fairly new but much overdue and these are a few of the strategies that I have come up with and I will continue to improve upon them. Hope these tips get you thinking.