2020-2021,  blog

What do we mean by “digital relaxed performances”?

A chat with Jack Hawk

Relaxed Performances are designed to welcome audience members and their families who could benefit from a more relaxed environment, including Autistic and neurodivergent patrons. 

The set-up includes: a pre-show introduction to the actors/characters, less intense sound and lighting effects, a very low level house light in the audience, the ability for anyone to come and go from the space, and a calm space outside the theatre. When Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) transitioned our season productions to be presented digitally, we consulted with the community and adjusted our relaxed performances to fit the digital experience. The first performance where we offered digital relaxed shows was 11:11 by Samson Bonkeabantu Brown. After hearing our friend Jack was at the performance, we had to ask how it went!

Jack has glasses and a pale complexion, with black hair that has blond steaks. In the photo Jack is looking off to the side wearing a black halter top

Jack Hawk (he/him) is an autistic and white-passing, reconnecting indigenous person who resides in Toronto and works in an outreach role with Tangled Arts + Disability. Since moving to Canada in 2013, he has focused his passions on community youth work, arts services, performance, and personal practice in visual art and astrology. He has worked and/or performed with organizations such as Ergo Arts Theatre, Hart House, Ryerson University, British Council, and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Samson Bonkeabantu Brown is dancing in the production 11:11, with turquoise lights and projections

Photo by E.S. Cheah | In the Photo: Samson Bonkeabantu Brown | Set by Nalo Soyini Bruce | Lighting  design by Sharmylae Taffe-Fletcher

TPM | Hi Jack, we hope you were able to successfully tune in and enjoy 11:11. This is the first time we’ve done a Digital Relaxed Performance so we’re interested to hear what people thought.

Jack | Hey TPM, I was able to tune in, as were all the folks you sent tickets to! In terms of feedback – the artists/community members all came back with positive reviews. And I can confirm mine will be too.

11:11 was not only a beautiful and essential show, but I was really impressed with it as a relaxed performance. It felt like I was back in the theatre for the first time since the pandemic started; it was very intimate and really opened my eyes about the future of digital inclusion in theatre and accessibility. Post-pandemic virtual nights for all shows, adding to the concept of relaxed performance — this is an offshoot thought/aspiration, haha.

As for my digital relaxed performance experience, I first downloaded the visual story*, and it was a joy to see. I really want organizations to develop visual stories for their digital programming. I feel like this added just as much depth to the show as the show program.

*For all our relaxed digital performances, we include a visual story

In the visual story we include clear instructions on accessing the performance link, a pre-show introduction to the play, the ability to access the performance link after the performance for a set period of time,  a Digital Front of House Manager to provide answers to any questions via phone, email, chat function and a virtual active listening room (via a zoom meeting) that anyone can go to after the performance. As an example, here is the visual story we provided for 11:11.

Jack | In terms of the pre-show statements, delaying the show a couple minutes to allow time for people to settle in, adding captions, a quiet room, reminders to take space and move/take breaks as needed, as well as having the viewing link available for 36h so that people can pause and continue on their own time… I think this was all done wonderfully. 

It was exciting to see people in the chat asking about these things, and learning them in the moment. I appreciate that accessibility tools were named, and named for the communities who have pushed for their inclusion, as well. 

The only other feedback I heard from artists is that they wished the facilitator during the Q&A had let the team lead a bit more of the dialogue/take up more time with their responses. 

TPM | That’s really great feedback, we’ll make sure to take note. We are so glad you were able to join us for 11:11!

Jack | This was very special. It feels like forever since a show has left me feeling that way, since we have all taken respite in our homes last year. It gives me hope that these opportunities can continue to be extended post-pandemic so those of us who sometimes are unable to leave our homes – and those in the community who never can – are still able to access the sense of community and creative excitement 11:11 brought. 

I would love for a future where funding, employment opportunities and community outreach expand to include digital access, even when someday people can attend shows in person. I think what was so affirming about this show was how it felt very informed by the disability community – and the autistic community, as I know my colleague, Riki Entz, one of the only other autistic stakeholders in relaxed performance training, did consult on the protocols. 

Samson stares into the camera with a soft expression in a poster that has text 11:11 in red across the top
Samson closes his eyes and looks upwards into the sky. The backdrop is an earthy-yellow tone and text overlays "11:11" on top

photo by Hoffworks | In the photo: Samson Bonkeabantu Brown

I really would love to see that trend continue. Now that relaxed performance had grown into a solidified and valued practice, we can continue to be creative with it in the ways TPM has – with previous performances like bug including Deaf-interpretation, and 11:11 being adapted to purely digital.

I hope this will include giving autistic community the space to ‘take back’ the narrative moving forward, too. We have always lived in the digital, so you can really see the influence here

Overall, I really hope someday I do not have to miss out on a show due to staying home. Even a recording provided with similar features of 11:11 would be a game changer in many ways moving forward. I also think it would be fantastic to have the extra hand in archiving the hard work gone into these productions! We never know what way the world is going to turn as we move into exceptional times – I don’t doubt we will need to rely on digital again and again. 11:11 made this all feel very possible, and not just possible, but that artists can collaborate and flourish in the medium. And the audience!

Haha, I felt like I could have gone for drinks after!

At TPM we strongly believe that making theatre accessible leads to more exciting experiences for everyone. We are constantly looking for ways to make our service and space more accessible and value your input. Please provide us with feedback! What can we do to improve our service? Contact Jenn Sartor, Producer by e-mail or by phone at 416-504-8988 x 2127

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Founded in 1968, TPM is Canada’s original alternative theatre company, currently developing and producing new Canadian plays. TPM is striving to articulate a distinct Canadian voice that reflects the complexity of our intercultural society. Sign up today and stay updated on all things TPM!


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TPM’s 20.21 Season is sponsored by TD Ready Commitment. The season is also supported by Canadian Heritage, Canada Council for the Arts, Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, Hal Jackman Foundation, The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, Martin Atkinson Foundation at Toronto Foundation and Metcalfe Foundation