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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York’s theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we’re passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Both Dr. Jamie Bleiweiss–a native New Yorker–and Dr. Donia Fahim–a Londoner–worked in clinical practice and as university professors, specializing in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Autism is a broad term that describes a group of complex disorders of brain development that can affect a person's ability to interact socially and communicate with others. It affects one in sixty-eight New York City kids. 
Autism Friendly Spaces at the New VicAutism Friendly Spaces at the Autism Friendly performance of The Gruffalo


Jamie and Donia saw a growing need for everyday community spaces to become more accessible and welcoming to the ASD community. Time and time again they spoke to parents of kids with autism who shared their frustrations about the challenges they encountered when venturing out into the community. These families dreamed of a more accommodating world where they didn't feel compelled to explain their kid's seemingly odd behavior to disapproving onlookers. They wanted a place where they weren't made to feel unwelcome and unwanted by people staring and making ill-informed comments about their parenting skills. 

So, in response, six years ago, Dr. Bleiweiss and Dr. Fahim created Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc., to address the diverse needs of individuals with autism and their loved ones. Its mission is to partner with organizations, businesses and cultural institutions–like The New Victory Theater–to help transform minds and physical spaces to enable meaningful inclusion for everyone affiliated with the Autism Community. 

During April, Autism Awareness Month, we asked Donia and Jamie of Autism Friendly Spaces to reflect on their partnership with The New Victory Theater.  
 

Since 2014, we've been proud to partner with the New Vic to bring New York City families multiple autism-friendly performances each season. These autism-friendly performances at the New Vic are often the highlight of our year. We regularly present our autism awareness training workshops to their phenomenal team of ushers. For autism-friendly performances, we carefully plot out the most enriching ways to introduce the New Vic shows to audience members with ASD. During each event, Autism Friendly Spaces staff and volunteers are always greeted with warm smiles and support from all of the New Vic ushers and staff at the show. It feels like we're all one big family there to support the audience!

"I absolutely love working with the ushers at New Victory! After meeting them during the training workshop, it's so special to see how enthusiastic they are during events. They truly embrace the information they learn, and are able to make connections with the audience while having a ton of fun with them!" shared Dana Khani, Senior Consultant with Autism Friendly Spaces.

 

Autism Friendly Spaces at the New Vic One of the many activities for kids at New Vic Autism Friendly Performances
We also consult with the production team before each show. This is critical in order to make any adjustments to the sound or visual effects to accommodate sensory sensitivities experienced by some audience members with autism. While we may make some minor modifications (like making sure show lights don't shine directly into the audience), we always maintain the integrity of the show so that the audience members have an authentic theater experience.

"Aside from working at Autism Friendly Spaces, I'm also a Special Education teacher. A visit to the theatre to see a live performance is such a great learning opportunity for kids with ASD. Knowing that these families have access to theater means so much to me," says Keren Keyzner, Director of Programs for Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc.

Additional accommodations and supports are provided during the autism-friendly shows, including designated areas in the lower lobby area where patrons can take a break at any point before, during or after the show. Autism Friendly Spaces provides trained volunteers who oversee these break areas and offer support as needed. Various fidget tools (such as koosh balls and tangles) are made readily available for individuals who may need them, as are an array of visual supports to help make the visit to the theater more predictable. Finally, we have a designated family friendly restroom, a support that many families are grateful for at these performances!

When asked what it's like to be involved in these special events at the New Victory Theater, Keren exclaimed, "My favorite part is getting to see the same families come to every show. Watching them get a high-five from the ushers and volunteers as they see a familiar face, it makes it all worth it!" Keyzner notes, "Many families talk with us about how their child said they're only staying for 5 minutes just to 'see how they feel' and then an hour later they are walking out at the end of the show grinning from ear to ear! Additionally, as a mother, I love seeing the parents find confidence. They see that their children can be successful and enjoy the theater."
 
 
Autism Friendly Spaces We believe that autism is not a puzzle that needs to be solved. Rather, we work to unlock minds and spaces in society, that's why our logo is a key! We aim to move beyond awareness, towards acceptance, accommodation and authentic appreciation of individuals with ASD!
To learn more about Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc., find out how to volunteer, or otherwise help support the work they do, please visit their website!


 
Posted by Beth Henderson

In Something, seven acrobats entertain audiences as they defy gravity, twirl around the stage and perform hilarious dances. We sat down with Mauro Ardenti, one of the performers, and Davide Agostini, one of the company's original creators, to ask them a few questions about how they began their acrobatic careers!
 

1. What do you love most about being an acrobat? Do you have a favorite act to perform in Something?
MA: To me, being an acrobat means fighting gravity, one way or the other. When I'm doing acrobatics, I feel like nothing exists except my body in the here and now. Everything else disappears—at least until I put my feet back on the ground! My favorite act in Something is my handbalancing solo, but I also have a lot of fun with the final "Panels" act, too!

2. Why is Something special to you?
DA: Something is very special to me and to the rest of the company because we created the first incarnation in just three weeks. It was right after we failed to get into a festival, so the fact that we're now performing it at The New Victory is incredible. Also, it's very fun to perform!

3. When did you start learning tricks? 
MA: When I was five years old, my sister was doing rhythmic gymnastics. One day, I went with her to the gym and I saw some of the other girls training. I remember it like it was yesterday—one of them did a cartwheel and I thought it was the most amazing, beautiful thing I had ever seen. I immediately started practicing cartwheels everywhere, including at my school and our church! My mom eventually surrendered when I was seven years old and took me to a gym so that I could start doing artistic gymnastics. 

DA: I've always been interested in circus. My background is in artistic gymnastics, so everything related to acrobatics catches my attention. My first experience as a performer was in an athletic dance theater company, but after that I wanted to go beyond dance, and also beyond circus. Thus, Liberi Di… Physical Theater was born!
 
The Something Cast The cast of Something

4. Mauro, your character is always reading a book in Something, do you have a favorite book?
MA: I haven't had a lot of time lately, but I love reading anything from the back of a cereal box to a biology essay about breeding tropical frogs. Choosing my favorite book is tough... at the moment the Harry Potter saga sits right at the center of my bookshelf. I've read each of the seven books four or five times, and I love it every time!

5. Do you have any advice for kids who want to become acrobats?
MA: Being an acrobat looks fun (and it is!) but it's also very hard. It requires constant hard work and a lot of endurance. If that's what you want, go for it. Don't give up, no matter what! 

6. How did you first get involved in Liberi Di…Physical Theatre?
MA: The company was founded in 2007 and I joined the following year. At the time, Liberi Di... didn't have a training facility, so they were using the circus school where I was training and teaching. One day, Davide told me that he wanted me to be a part of their first theatrical production, Inverni. I was so nervous the day of the premiere, but the show was great and the audience loved it. That's one of my favorite memories.

DA: Liberi Di... was created by me and three other people—Stefano Pribaz, Valentina Marino and Giulia Piolanti—in 2007.  The four of us had spent the previous seven years as artists in another company. We wanted to be the creators of our own art and free to do anything we could imagine. As a matter of fact, "Liberi Di..." in Italian means "free to..."
 
 
‚ÄčMauro Ardenti Mauro Ardenti began practicing artistic gymnastics at seven years old. After graduation, acrobatics were just a hobby for him. However, a school soon asked if he would teach full-time in 2005. Ever since then, he's worked as a professional artist. He joined Liberi Di… Physical Theater in 2008 and has been a regular member of the company ever since. In the summer of 2015, he performed with Cirque du Soleil at the Expo Milan 2015 show Allavita! Through acrobatics and circus, he explores the worlds of dance and physical theater. His specialty is hand balancing, but he also performs aerial acts, hand-to-hand and physical theater.
Davide Agostini Davide Agostini's career in artistic gymnastics started when he began competing at six years old. He attended the University Institute for Motor Science in Padova, while joining the athletic dance company Kataklò Theater. As a part of this company, he toured around the world for seven years, even performing at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin. He also studied dance with several internationally renowned teachers such as Sonia Bianchi, Gus Bembery, Dmitri Chabardin, Anna Rita Larghi, Paola Corio, Gaetano Petrosino, Michele Oliva and many more. After a number of new experiences, he founded Liberi Di... Physical Theatre to pursue his own creative vision. He's now also a choreographer and teacher at some of the most prestigious schools in Italy.
Posted by Beth Henderson
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