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Jumping Jack Theater welcomes kids to sensory-friendly performances

Kristine Sorensen
August09/ 2018

Going to the theater can be overwhelming for children on the autism spectrum, or with social or cognitive disabilities.

However, a new local theater company was recently created to overcome that.

Jumping Jack Theater creates original works of theater that are sensory-friendly. The experience actually starts in the classroom. A diorama arrived at Pine-Richland Youth Center before the actors did, showing the cityscape where the show is set.

Then, the actors prepare the kids for what’s going to happen.

“Beep beep,” says actor Sara Barbisch. “Did you get it M.C.? That was great!”

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She went on to say that the kids’ actual sounds are recorded and will be played back during the live show.

Jumping Jack Theater artistic director and co-founder, Stephen Santa, says it’s all part of how they make the show comfortable for kids with autism and disabilities.

“It can be overwhelming — the lights, the sound, the crowd, going to a new area they’re not comfortable in,” Santa said.

The kids color their own bus passes, as they prepare to travel along for the ride, interacting with the show itself. In addition to being sensory-friendly, the shows teach life skills.

“It’s how to cross the street safely, how to use a bus pass, how to talk with a stranger to ask for help if you need help,” Santa said.

Then, it’s time for the show in the gym.

Eight-year-old Jackson Talik summarizes the plot. “The girl lost her paper and she had to go all the way around town to find it,” he said.

The kids are mesmerized, entertained and educated.

“I really like it and I think it was accurate and funny,” said 10-year-old Reah Sedaric.

She says it was accurate when it showed “how she did a lot of teamwork and work together with the pigeon to get the paper back.”

Thirteen-year-old Tommi Cummings says, “I loved it,” especially the pigeon. Nine-year-old Janya Ullal says, “I liked the pigeon when he was flying around and stuff.”

With Jumping Jack Theater, it’s OK when kids talk or even walk through the stage area. The show is made for this. When asked why it’s so important to bring theater to these children, Santa said, “because theater can change lives, and it needs to be accessible to everyone.”

The show is designed to be flexible and can be shown in a classroom, auditorium, gym or even outdoors.

For more information, visit their website.

Kristine Sorensen

I am proud to work at KDKA-TV -- anchoring the news, hosting Pittsburgh Today Live and doing special reports. I am married to KDKA reporter Marty Griffin and we have 3 children. I first moved to Pittsburgh in 1999 but I’ve lived in Dallas, Johnson City, Tenn., Chicago, Williamsburg, Va., Milwaukee and Winter Park, Fla. Pittsburgh is now the place I call home.

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