We love attending the sensory-friendly performances at Dallas Children’s Theater. We have attended since their very first sensory-friendly performance, and though we don’t go to every show, we try to attend at least several times a year.
This time we watched “Goosebumps, the Musical: The Phantom of the Auditorium.” It was probably the most complex play we’ve seen at DCT, with the possible exception of “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters.” We have noticed that by taking Daniel to the theater that his theater etiquette is improving considerably, and was very well-developed this last time so that he’s sitting and quite the entire time (a few humorous asides aside). He was even annoyed that others were interrupting the play (it being a sensory-friendly performance, he was hardly the only autistic child there).
Many of the plays we have watched recently have involved magical and fantasy elements. “Goosebumps” has a ghost, “Mufaro” has several magical elements, “James & the Giant Peach” of course has the magical peach, and of course “Jack & the Beanstalk” has magic beans. These are all very troublesome to Daniel, who typically has a hard time with magical/fantasy elements because they are of course metaphorical, not literal. And he’s hyper-rational, so magic is right out.
His trouble with these elements is most obvious when the magical elements are introduced later (Mufaro) rather than being woven into the story from the beginning (James). He is always of the opinion that since this or that can’t actually happen in real life (like the singing trees in Mufaro), why would they show them on the stage, in the story? Along these same lines, his literalism tends to make it so he has a hard time understanding joking and silliness, though he is learning to understand these things through watching plays Mufaro, James, and “Frog and Toad.” Also, I am relentless in my joking and silliness with him, so now he asks me, “Are you joking?” when I am in fact joking, and then seems to (more or less) accept it when I tell him I am.
The good thing is that he seems to be getting better at accepting these elements within stories, as part of the storytelling process, as symbols for something.
While as recently as Mufaro (which we saw last Spring), Daniel was still asking questions throughout the play about what was happening, it was clear Daniel understood quite well what was happening in Goosebumps. In Goosebumps, the story is that there are these high school kids putting on a play with their theater teacher–a version of The Phantom of the Opera. Daniel immediately leaned over to his mom and said, “This is a play about another play.” He laughed, acted spooked at all the right times, and he absolutely loved the Phantom. And he’s beginning to understand how a play actually works.
Daniel and his brother and sister have a long history of putting on “plays” for their mother and me. Naturally, most of them are a collage of silliness; this last time, however, Daniel actually created a small story, did voice-over narration to set the story up, and prevented it from going on and on and on. Afterwards, he and his siblings told us to come to the living room and to bring our programs to them so they could sign them. At DCT, after each show the actors all come out and sit for pictures and signatures. The kids all get signatures and pictures; they replicated that experience here at the house.
This past performance was a real breakthrough for Daniel. He was excited to go, his stamina at the play was much better (and this was a 2 hour play), and his theater etiquette was much improved. True, he was annoyed that he could actually see the people moving the props–but this time he just leaned over and whispered about it to his mother rather than yelling out (as one child in the audience did, saying, “Hey! Where are all the actors?” during a brief scene change, which we thought was cute and funny, but which we are happy Daniel no longer does, no matter how cute and funny it can be).
And Daniel is now going even further and expanding his understanding of how theater works to understanding how films work. He understands that there has to be a writer and that the actors have to memorize the lines. He recently told me that he wants to write a future Star Wars movie, and he then went on to point out that the writer writes the words, the actors say the words, and it’s all put on film and then shown to people. This he mostly figured out on his own. As fine a summary of how to make a film as any 8-year-old could put in words.
Also, Daniel was excited to learn that there are many Goosebumps books, and he asked me to get him some. Considering the fact that he has said in the past he doesn’t like reading fiction because he doesn’t see the point in it, this is a major coup. And it’s all thanks to the theater.