New offerings aim to make more people feel welcome at the theatre

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. – In an effort to make theatre more welcoming for everyone, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre has announced a major expansion of its accessible programming. The new initiatives will begin with Civic’s 97th season for 2022/23, which opens with School of Rock on August 5th.

“We believe that all people should experience the thrill, excitement, and storytelling of live theatre,” said Allyson Paris, Civic Theatre’s Artistic Director. “Our expanded programming is a big step toward achieving that goal.”

The following is a sampling of the accessible programming Civic Theatre will regularly offer on set dates throughout the season, beginning with the season opener, School of Rock.

  • Audio Described Performances, in which live commentary is interspersed with the actors’ dialogue, making it easier for people with impaired vision to enjoy the show. Touch tours will be provided before these performances for patrons. 
  • “Pay What You Can” Preview Performances. On the Thursday before the opening night of each show, Civic will offer the public a “Pay What You Can” preview. The amount you pay for your ticket is based on what patrons are able and willing to give the production, whether that is the cost of a small coffee or the bill for a large dinner.
  • American Sign Language (ASL) Interpretation, where a skilled ASL interpreter will be present to sign the entire performance as an additional resource for those with hearing impairments.
  • Low Sensory Night is an existing offering at Civic Theatre which is being expanded during the coming season. Low Sensory Night includes reduced sound volume, adjusted lights, limited seating, and an opportunity to learn about the show ahead of time to make the live theatre experience more accessible for individuals with diverse sensory needs and their families/caretakers.
  • Relaxed Environment Performances are perfect for anyone who benefits from being able to make noise, leave and return to their seat, or access the toilets during the performance. This includes patrons with dementia, anxiety, Tourette’s, bowel and bladder conditions, those on the autism spectrum, or those with learning disabilities.

Civic Theatre leaders are excited about the new programming and are looking forward to the idea of welcoming new people into their space. Civic Theatre Audience Experience Manager Jess Burke, who helped develop the new accessibility plan, says it’s all about making people feel at home. “We’re a community theatre, and that means we need to continue to work toward serving the needs of everyone in our community,” said Burke. “We want to eliminate barriers, whether economic considerations, mobility needs, visual challenges, support for a better audio experience, or anything in between. Theatre is for everyone.”

A full description of Civic Theatre’s new and existing accessible programming and resources, and dates for accessible performances in the coming season can be found at