EMU theatre tour offers interactive performance tailored to neurodivergent students

From March to April, Eastern Michigan University’s (EMU) touring Theatre for the Young show will provide small groups of neurodivergent students an immersive, multi-sensory theatrical experience.

The tour will present "Ronnie and Scales’ Magnificent Tale," an all-ages musical about imagination, directed by EMU graduate student Sam Carter. The show will offer young audience members opportunities to touch props and set pieces, and to interact directly with cast members. 

Carter says there is "no wrong way to interact with the piece," and hopes that students feel comfortable moving around and asking questions during the performance if they need to. Students, teachers, and parents will have access to materials like activity books and social stories in order to make the show accessible to all students regardless of ability.

"Our main goal is to delight as many of the senses as possible, especially for those who may not have all five senses," Carter says. "We want to provide the same good experience to everyone in every show."

Carter hopes the tour will also be a positive experience for its cast and crew, which includes many EMU undergrads.

"Many actors here have said they didn’t feel welcome in other theatre spaces because of things like their skin color or disability," Carter says. "I want to create a space where the actors and creative team are having a fun time and helping each other."

"Ronnie and Scales’ Magnificent Tale" will be open to the public on March 15 and 16 at EMU’s Sponberg Theatre before touring local schools through April. Carter hopes that bringing the show into classrooms will make the art more accessible and exciting for students who may not feel comfortable sitting through a play in a theater. In her work with Detroit-based OpenSpot Theatre, which engages people with developmental disabilities among others in performing arts, she says she's noticed that many students with disabilities don't have accessible opportunities for after-school activities or theater experiences.

"It’s important that everyone has something special for them and feels heard," Carter says. "It’s part of the human experience."

EMU’s Theatre for the Young tour is also made possible by grant dollars from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Arts and Culture Council. Carter says that helps to keep the cost of bringing the show to schools as low as possible and to provide scholarship shows to lower-income schools. She says she's excited to share the show with Ypsi’s community of schools.

"Every audience is different, and we’re going to learn on the road what works and what doesn’t," Carter says. "We’ve built the show to be intentionally flexible, and we want to try our best to be as accessible as possible."

Admission to the public performance of "Ronnie and Scales’ Magnificent Tale" will be $6. More information can be found at the EMU Theatre for the Young Tour website or by calling (734) 487-2282.

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

Photos courtesy of Meredith Murphree.
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