A sensory-friendly ‘Velveteen Rabbit’ is a theater occasion for all children

The kids of 'The Velveteen Rabbit.' (Image courtesy of Wolf PAC.)

Bryn Mawr’s Wolf Performing Arts Center is putting on a sensory-friendly version of The Velveteen Rabbit this December, a first for the children’s theater nonprofit.

The performance, which is designed to be autism-friendly, is the first of its kind for Wolf PAC. The organization consulted with Aliza Greenberg, a New York City-based special needs educator and consultant, who works with performing arts organizations to help tailor their performances for children with autism.

Choosing The Velveteen Rabbit

“Inclusion has always been at the heart of our mission at Wolf Performing Arts Center,” says Tim Popp, the organization’s artistic director. Wolf PAC has had children with disabilities perform in their productions, and their website emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusion in their work. It’s no wonder, then, that they chose The Velveteen Rabbit as their first foray into autism-friendly performances.

The Velveteen Rabbit was one of our first productions, but its message is so timeless,” says Popp. First published in 1922, The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams, is one of those stories featured in most American childhoods, alongside classics like The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Goodnight Moon. It tells the tale of a stuffed toy rabbit who is transformed into a real rabbit through the love of a little boy.

“The play is really all about accepting each other’s differences. The other toys think little of the Velveteen Rabbit since he is not made of fine materials as they are. But as they realize how much the child, Alex, loves him, the other toys realize that even though our outsides may be different, we are all worthy of love,” Popp says.

“Different” does not mean “less than”

To mount a sensory-friendly version of The Velveteen Rabbit (a stage adaptation by playwright Phil Grecian that is directed by Betsy Wolf Regn), Wolf PAC is lowering sound and light levels, and providing “Take a Break” areas in the lobby as well as fidgets and other sensory supports.

More importantly, Wolf PAC has invested in training not only its staff but also its child performers to understand the needs of children with autism and other sensory sensitivities. For the performers, it’s been an eye-opening experience, a way to bridge the gap the world often perceives between neurotypical people and those with developmental disabilities.

“A big part of [the actors’] growth has come from them realizing how similar a sensory friendly performance would be to one for a neurotypical audience,” explains Popp. “I think I've actually noticed the biggest transformation in their behavior off stage. What they're learning is that ‘different’ does not mean ‘scary’ or ‘less than.’ They are learning to accept and adapt in order to be inclusive of all people.”

Popp hopes that this type of performance will be the first of many for Wolf PAC. In the meantime, their plays will continue to feature children from all walks of life.

A sensory-friendly version of The Velveteen Rabbit will be performed at 3pm on Saturday, December 10 at Rosemont College’s Rotwitt Theater, 1400 Montgomery Avenue, Rosemont. Additional performances run from December 9-11. Click here for tickets to the sensory-friendly show; click here for other performances. To reserve wheelchair-accessible seating for any show, call the box office at (610) 642-0233.