Grantee Spotlight:
Theatre Development Fund
New York, NY


Since 2011, Theatre Development Fund (TDF) has been sharing the magic of Broadway with children and adults with autism and their families through their Autism Theatre Initiative (ATI). According to Lisa Carling, Director of TDF Accessibility Programs, “As we talked to parents, special education teachers and psychologists, we realized there was an overwhelming consensus to create performances geared directly toward those in the autism community.” Since inception, TDF has offered eleven autism-friendly Broadway performances, including Disney’s The Lion King, Mary Poppins, Elf, Wicked and Spider-Man Turn off the Dark.  According to Lisa, “This initiative has by far had the most impact on the community and has attracted the most attention both nationally and internationally.”

The performances are modified with an eye toward creating a supportive environment which often includes; a reduction of harsh sounds and strong lighting, stress relieving objects distributed at the door and quiet areas in the lobby for those who need to leave their seats during the show. TDF also provides training for the cast, crew and house staff so their approach to audience members is more relaxed and they understand the range of behaviors that may occur with theater goers who have autism. According to Lisa, “We eagerly share our methodology and encourage other communities to implement similar programming that is targeted toward this need in the community.”

In addition to creating an autism friendly environment within the theater, TDF, through grants such as the one from Night of Too Many Stars, has also been able to offer tickets at discounted prices, making the performances accessible for families and friends to attend. Lisa explains that “Parents of those recently diagnosed with autism truly struggle if they don’t have the supports in place that they need. So, we feel it is especially important to have an event for these parents to attend where they know they’re part of a much larger family.”


Pictured above: (from left) Kevin, Leo, Edwin.

Edwin and Kevin often attend TDF’s autism friendly performances with their son Leo who has autism. To date, Leo has attended six Broadway shows with his parents. According to Edwin, “I think Leo’s favorite performance would be The Lion King. Every time we’ve seen it, he sits at the edge of his seat and watches with full attention.” Edwin explains that although Leo is nonverbal, the smile on his son’s face as he watches the actors on stage clearly expresses how much he enjoys these shows. When the audience stands up and claps, Leo applauds as well. “TDF gives parents of a child with autism the chance to do something fun and exciting together as a family,” explains Edwin. “We are grateful for the opportunity to experience Broadway in a welcoming atmosphere.”

Click here to find out more about TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative.

Theatre Development Fund is one of nearly 50 organizations in 20 states across the country to receive a grant through New York Collaborates for Autism from the proceeds of Comedy Central’s 2012 Night of Too Many Stars benefit.

Save-The-Date for the next Night of Too Many Stars Saturday, February 28, 2015.