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It’s about access: Sensory-Friendly Nutcracker Performance returns to the Kauffman Stage

The beloved sensory-friendly Nutcracker performance returns to Kansas City this holiday season!

This version of the holiday performance is specially curated for children, families, and adults with sensory sensitivities and autism spectrum disorder. Too often families with a member with sensory sensitivities don’t have the opportunity to make special memories like coming to the theatre as a family. Making a performance like this available is key to Kansas City Ballet’s vision to create outstanding dance experiences accessible to all.

From reduced sound levels to relaxed house rules like the freedom to get up and move around, using electronic devices in the theatre, and talking freely during the performance — the sensory-friendly performance makes Devon Carney’s The Nutcracker a true Kansas City tradition for all.

A lasting memory for years to come

Mary Anne Hammond always loved the arts and dreamed of including The Nutcracker performance in her family’s Christmas tradition. Unfortunately, the strict rules and audience expectations at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts made it difficult and inaccessible for her daughter to make that dream come true for years.

In 2018, Mary Anne was on the committee at Children’s Mercy Hospital learning how to make the hospital environment more sensory friendly. Around that same time, Grace Ingham, KCB’s Manager of Events & Philanthropy, was working with the hospital to develop KCB’s first sensory-friendly Nutcracker performance. “Honestly, the fact that there is now a space to go to where there are little to no expectations is so exciting,” Mary Anne says.

Nora Burkitt-Davis, Children’s Division & Adaptive Dance Coordinator for Kansas City Ballet School, says that watching patrons be completely entranced and moved to the point of dancing in their seats fills her with an insurmountable amount of joy.

“Families in (KCB’s) Adaptive Dance (classes) are ecstatic to have this performance back. We have all been waiting so patiently for this show to return,” she says. “Seeing families dressed up and excitement on their faces is so fun. Many parents say they want to see the ballet more and engage with their dance community but don’t always feel welcome. I’m happy we can give them a night where it’s about them and what their families need.”

Give them a chance to shine

KCB Dancers Amanda DeVenuta and Whitney Huell with a volunteer usher and attendee.

Mary Anne’s daughter Kailey was one of the first audience members to experience this incredibly thoughtful event, and Mary Anne says, “She glowed.”

“Our kids get excluded from so many things due to autism or other special sensory needs, but I think that in so many ways, they do love to experience everything alongside everyone else — they just need that chance to be included,” Mary Anne says. “Working with Kansas City Ballet to help curate the theater environment to these children and adults’ needs was so beautiful. Whether it’s lowering the house lights around a little bit, having the orchestra reduce its volume and even lifting the rule that claps and sounds in general are only allowed at these certain times to any time — it goes a long way.”

Kailey was mesmerized, Mary Anne says, and it was like nothing her family had ever seen before. She had never had the opportunity.

“Now, there was a child behind me that was kicking my chair the whole night. But I thought, ‘Well, who better to have that happen to than me!’ That didn’t deter my experience of the performance or set me off because I get it!” Mary Anne laughs.

A gift that keeps giving 

Mary Anne wants to continue to challenge organizations to consider how else Kailey and others can have more opportunities like KCB’s sensory-friendly Nutcracker.

“We need to expand our capacity for understanding and accepting those with developmental and sensory challenges. This opportunity proves we are more alike than we are different,” Mary Anne says.

The magic of dance doesn’t need to stop once the show ends. Kansas City Ballet School offers adaptive dance programs that support and reinforce an understanding of dance by encouraging movement, creative activity, and sensory awareness in an open environment for students (ages 3-35) of mixed cognitive abilities. For questions, please contact Nora Burkitt-Davis the Adaptive Dance Administrator.

Grace says after seeing how the performances went in 2018 and 2019, KCB now can accommodate more audience members and increased the capacity to 1,000 to include more families in this holiday tradition! Before the show, you and your family can access/print off the “Pre-visit Stories” and a “Nutcracker Synopsis” to get familiar with the production.

Interested in buying tickets? Please contact the box office at 816.931.8993 or visit KCB’s website for more information.

One performance of The Nutcracker costs over $50,000 to produce. And unlike other companies, KC Ballet does not condense or alter our sensory-friendly performance in any way other than the accommodations listed above. Families in attendance enjoy the same experience as all patrons during the run of the show, including the boutique and souvenir photo booth to take memories of the night home!

Many supporters underwrite production expenses and provide lifelong memories for Kailey and many others. For more information, please visit our website.


Header Photo: Mary Anne, Kailey and Julia Hammond. Photo courtesy of Mary Anne Hammond.

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