It was October 2nd 2022. I had just gotten back to the United States from the United Kingdom. Mom invited me to go with her to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville TN to see a band she grew up listening to. I obliged. I had a good time but I was a little nervous at first because I don’t do concerts. 3 weeks before I left for the UK I was in Indianapolis performing at the 2022 IndyFringe Festival. A week before my first show I attended a hybrid show that was a cross between a alternative rock concert and interpretive dance. Upon entering the venue the ushers gave everyone ear plugs warning that it was going to be LOUD.
Many people falsely believe that ONLY people with Autism Spectrum Disorder have Sensory Processing Disorder as a lovely added bonus. That’s simply not true. Anyone who has a neurodivergent condition can be overstimulated with certain sensory inputs. I don’t do loud consistent noises. That being the reason why I don’t do certain events like concerts. Nashville on the 2nd of October we got backrow seats so the noise didn’t bother me. Life doesn’t always grant you those conveniences. Why should I or anyone else with similar conditions have to rely on luck and random conveniences to make life enjoyable?
This is where sensory friendly magic shows come in!
Concerts, live shows and events are one of the biggest hurdles people with a neurodivergent condition face that prevents them from 1) being around other people and 2) enjoying themselves and having fun. Many musicians are unaware or simply don’t care to make inclusive alterations. Plays and cinema are getting better at this with Sensory Friendly nights and rooms.
Magic and the magicians that perform it are a PERFECT match for the neurodiversity community. Magician’s do NOT need loud noises, obnoxious lighting or smells to put on a good show. Magician’s don’t even need to talk! Sometimes the magic speaks for itself which makes it not only accessible to neurodivergent audiences but international audiences as well.
Now how a Sensory Friendly magic show is put together is a discussion all on its own but there are few key things to keep in mind: 1) The magic needs to be easy to follow, simple and direct void of anything that requires the audience to invest a lot of cognitive effort into. Memory tests and certain types of math and mathematical mentalism may not be the best. 2) Following along the line of thought as Point 1, props with soft colors work wonderfully well; I would go easy on the neon brights. 3) Music in a Sensory Friendly show is okay but it shouldn’t be deafening or drowning or longer than 5 minutes. Use it in the intro and outro. 4) Have a audience management contingency plan. As I discussed earlier, you’re going to have people in the audience that will have their moments. 5) By outward appearances a Sensory Friendly Magic Show looks just like a children’s show. It is very easy to treat them as equal and I must warn you not to. Children shows are for children. Sensory Friendly shows are for mixed age groups. Adults in the Sensory group get treated like children a LOT. I will even make the case that BOTh the children show crowd and the Sensory Friendly crowd should both be treated with respect as ADULTS. I caution against talking down to either of these two groups. Now there is a difference between children shows and sensory friendly shows – the props built for the children show crowd can work wonderfully well for the Sensory Friendly group. The props are often soft colored but bright and the routines are easy to follow and don’t have a long run time.
There are a LOT of barriers facing the neurodiverse community. People with neurodiverse conditions can face chronic unemployment, chronic isolation, chronic socioeconomic immobility, chronic emotional & physical health issues such as injury and depression. Life for a neurodivergent person can be hard and not being able to attend concerts or events where they can run the risk of being overly stimulated is unnecessary but it happens – with Sensory Friendly shows, people with ADHD, Autism Spectrum, etc can enjoy the things neurotypicals can enjoy in a comfortable, inclusive and safe environment.