Blue Man Group, others add autism-friendly shows

Blue Man Group, others add autism-friendly shows
Blue Man Group plays the pvc pipes under the black lights during their show at Blue Man Group Theatre at Universal Orlando in Orlando, Fla. Wednesday, October 30, 2013. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel) (Gary W. Green / Orlando Sentinel)

Thundering drums, flashing lights and a pumped-up soundtrack help make Blue Man Group performances a sensory explosion.

But for children with autism spectrum disorders, that experience can be overwhelming.


On Dec. 5, Blue Man's Universal CityWalk edition will present a less flashy, less intense version with a portion of proceeds going directly to Autism Speak, a nonprofit advocacy organization. For one night, Blue Man will crank down the volume.

Non-verbal communication is at the base of Blue Man shows. Blue-skinned, smooth-headed performers get their message across with tools ranging from unorthodox musical instruments to paint to flying marshmallows.

"We thought this would be a really great way to communicate with them in a different way, a completely different source, where we communicate with our eyes and with emotion," said Adam Zuick, who has been a member of Blue Man Group for two years.

The Dec. 5 show will eliminate strobes and reduce sound levels, he said.

"Most of it is just us playing it by ear," he said. "Most of it will be us in the show establishing how far we can go and what we need to do to communicate with them in a way that keeps them comfortable."

Blue Man locations in Las Vegas, Boston, Chicago and New York have put on performances that cater to sensory-sensitive audiences, Zuick said.

More entertainment groups and venues are making accommodations for folks who are on the spectrum, said Karen Bacharach, senior director for the southeast regional office of Autism Speaks. Children's acting studios, theatrical groups and movie houses are among establishments that have adjusted performances and volume levels at specific times, she said.

Orlando Repertory Theatre has scheduled a sensory-sensitive performance of its "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical" for Sunday.

The Tampa Bay Rays baseball team also has held special events with Autism Speaks, Bacharach said. Quiet rooms near the seating areas were set aside by the organization, she said.

In Orlando, if children become uncomfortable during the Blue Man Group performance, there will be a designated quiet area in the theater lobby.

Otherwise, it's almost business as usual for the Blue Men performers. One man will vault marshmallows toward another man, who will catch them in his mouth, and there will still be an audience member brought on stage.

"We're pretty good at picking people that will be OK with coming up on stage," Zuick said. "We'll definitely take our time with it and make sure that the person who comes up will be safe and will enjoy their time up there and not feel uncomfortable."

Tickets start at $49; or 800-258-3626.