PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pittsburgh is a leader in making its performing arts accessible for people with disabilities — whether it’s a physical impairment, visual impairment, hearing impairment or a developmental disability.

“The Lion King’s” autism-friendly performance filled the Benedum Center’s 2,800 seats in September. Pittsburgh was only the third city in the country to offer it.

Now, Pittsburgh is the first to offer an autism-friendly “Nutcracker” performance at the Benedum Center Dec. 27.

“We want it to be a safe environment, so we are only selling tickets to families who have a child or someone in their family on the spectrum or another intellect or cognitive disability,” said Alyssa Herzog Melby, education director for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Melby spearheaded the initiative with a focus group that included people with autism who gave them guidance.

At the special performance, they’ll be turning off the lights in the mice’s red eyes and eliminating flares used in a magic trick.

“The choreography will be the same, and the lights and sound might be slightly lowered,” Melby said.

The accommodations extend into the Benedum Center lobby where there will be quiet areas for anyone who needs to calm down and activity zones for anyone who needs a break from the show but still wants to stay connected.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust also lent their experience. They recently received a Kennedy Center Award for making the cultural arts inclusive for people with disabilities.

“We are seeing growth of people feeling comfortable and wanting to come to performances,” said Rona Nesbit, executive vice president of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancer Stephen Hadala, a father himself, loves to share his passion for dance.

“What I’m looking forward to is bringing our art form, our craft, to kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to the theater and enjoy it,” he said.

On Tuesday, the dancers had a special training on autism and what they can expect from the audience at the show. They’ll be able to see the audience since the house lights will be on at about 25 percent.

The autism-friendly “Nutcracker” performance is Dec. 27 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are on sale at a discounted rate at www.PBT.org.

Holiday Season Guide
More Reports by Kristine Sorensen