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Big Umbrella Outdoors: A place for audiences with autism and developmental disabilities

Swingset Drumkit. Photo by Federico Villalba.
Swingset Drumkit. Photo by Federico Villalba.

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts welcomes audiences with autism and other developmental disabilities and their families to Big Umbrella Outdoors. The weekend of programming beginning September 17 is part of Restart Stages, the new outdoor performing arts center constructed on the Lincoln Center campus to champion the city’s cultural and economic revival. 

Big Umbrella Outdoors.

Big Umbrella Outdoors is an extension of the 2018 Big Umbrella Festival, an international endeavor that offered performances across New York City for children on the autism spectrum. It also gathered arts professionals and thought leaders from across the globe in-person and virtually to share best practices on serving these unique audiences. Held during Autism Acceptance Month, the festival was the first of its kind dedicated to arts programs for young people on the spectrum and their families. 

In 2013, Lincoln Center became the first major cultural institution to commission an original work for children on the autism spectrum, titled Up and Away. While some institutions had offered sensory-friendly programming or adapted versions of existing works, Up and Away’s model was groundbreaking because it was created specifically for an audience on the autism spectrum across all production aspects: script, design and experience. In the years following, Lincoln Center continued this trailblazing model with a second original commission, Campfire.

Restart Stages is a program of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation-Lincoln Center Agora Initiative with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which activates outdoor space through artistic and community initiatives that speak to our current moment, and reimagines cultural engagement in public space for a new era. 

“Lincoln Center’s commitment to audiences with disabilities continues, and as we consider our approach to creating spaces that are radically welcoming and socially inclusive, we are eager to experiment with multi-sensory work in an outdoor setting and are thrilled to be sharing it with you,” said Jean E. Taylor, assistant director of education at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. 

Squonk's Hand to Hand. Photo by Emily O'Donnell.
Squonk’s Hand to Hand. Photo by Emily O’Donnell.

This year, Big Umbrella Outdoors kicks off with a special event at 6pm on September 17, welcoming teens and young adults for an evening of art, dance and music activities. The evening begins with an offering from neurodiverse theatre company E.P.I.C. Players in a performance that explores the autistic experience through authentically conceived and portrayed stories and concludes with an inclusive Silent Disco featuring Music: Not Impossible, wearable technology which translates sound onto the skin through vibration, allowing users to feel the music. The Silent Disco offers the unique experience for audience members to control sensory elements, by adjusting volume on personal devices and being within socially distanced circles.

Children and their families are invited to experience the festival on September 18-19, in a two-hour ticketed window that begins at 11am or 2:30pm, each including the same offerings. Each visit begins and ends with a live performance, with time between for attendees to choose and explore additional interactive installations: Squonk’s Big Hands for a Big Umbrella immersive experience; a sonic soundscape from Swingset Drumkit, the sensory sculpture Orchids Playscape,as well as music and dance performances featuring artists with disabilities. 

In addition, an at-home, action-packed experience for kids, Sun Runners, an intergalactic audio adventure by Audioplay and Windmill Theatre Company, will be available at LincolnCenter.org/BigUmbrella from September 13-26.

For tickets and more information, visit LincolnCenter.org/BigUmbrella.

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