Like many cultural institutions in New York City, Lincoln Center has been adapting its programming for children on the autism spectrum for many years, devising “sensory-friendly” versions of its arts offerings. Now, the midtown institution is breaking ground with an entire festival filled with shows and events just for this audience. Big Umbrella Festival features artists of multiple disciplines from around the world performing from April 14- May 6. (April is Autism Awareness Month.) These are hot tickets — here’s what to expect!

Up and Away; photo: Lincoln Center/Big Umbrella Festival; Alexis Buatti Ramos

Taking it Up (and Down) a Notch
Theater and events for children on the autism spectrum is not a new venture for Lincoln Center; the arts organization commissioned its first work for those on the spectrum, Up and Away, from New York’s own Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, in 2013. 

What made this show special was that it was not simply adapted for young people with autism, but created specifically for an audience on the autism spectrum across all production aspects: script, design, and experience. Featuring an immersive installation design, the experience included pre-show preparation materials, one-to-one interaction with actors, and an adjacent quiet room, among other features.

Sounds amazing? Good news!: the company will reprise the production for Big Umbrella Festival.

Oddyssea; photo: Lincoln Center/Big Umbrella Festival


Big Umbrella Festival: Theater for Children and Families
In addition to Up and Away, Big Umbrella will feature two other productions conceived and created specifically for kids on the spectrum. Held in small, intimate spaces, the productions have limited capacity, so availability is tight. Silver lining?; waiting lists are available for sold-out shows, and sensory-friendly events running as part of the fest can accommodate larger audiences.

Note: Lincoln Center is also partnering with the Queens Theatre for performances of Oddysea  (April 17-20) and Light Show (April 25-27) for school groups from across the city, so your child may have a chance to see one of these shows there.

Up and Away; photo: Lincoln Center/Big Umbrella Festival; Alexis Buatti Ramos


Up and Away
From the Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, Up and Away is at once a story and an interactive experience, inspired loosely by the imagination of Jules Verne and his famous book Around the World in 80 Days. Seated in hot-air balloons, audiences join the Fogg Family Balloon Society on their 1,000th balloon ride. Featuring puppetry, live music, and interactive play, this “flight” travels through extraordinary places such as the Fog Bog, the Arctic Aviary, and Cloud Canyon, all with multisensory experiences. Each child in the audience has a one-on-one guide from the Fogg Family for the trip through the clouds. 

Multiple dates and times
Tickets: $25
Clark Studio Theater

Odyssea; photo: Lincoln Center/Big Umbrella Festival/Jessica Wyld

The Sensorium Theatre in West Australia came a long way for this one. Set within a beautiful undersea world, this immersive tale of best friends Crab and Turtle’s oceanic adventures comes alive through touch, smell, taste, live music, and stunning imagery. Nestled on beanbag sand dunes, audiences become part of the “oddysea” unfolding around them. Starting at the shimmering gold satin sands of the beach, they journey with Crab and Turtle through sparkling blue-sequined waves to a kaleidoscopic crocheted coral reef, encountering

Multiple dates and times
Tickets: $25
Samuels Teaching Studio

Light Show; photo: Lincoln Center/Big Umbrella Festival/Neal Haughton

Light Show
Creating distinct silhouettes in an exquisite play of light and shadow, Light Show, created by London’s Oily Cart,  brings audiences to a magical paper palace. The serene papery white landscape transitions from a beautiful warm day at the beach to a dreamy moonlit wonderland, creating a multi-sensory journey of textures, smells, and tactile experiences accompanied by live music from a virtuoso double bass player.

Multiple dates and times
Tickets: $25
Samuels Teaching Studio

And a Whole Lot More — Some of It is Even Free (Music, Film, Storytime, etc.)
Those are just the theater pieces specifically created for kids on the spectrum, but Big Umbrella Festival features lots of other sensory-friendly or “relaxed” events and performances. Those include the following: (Click here for a full list of additional programming)

Big Umbrella Festival Kickoff Event
Come by the David Rubenstein Atrium for a free performance from Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could, and Actionplay Chorus,  a group of young performers on the autism spectrum. (In recent years, the Actionplay Chorus has performed with Weird Al Yankovic on Comedy Central’s Night of Too Many Stars, with the Greenwich Village Orchestra, and at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music.)

April 14, 10:30 a.m.
Tickets: Free
David Rubenstein Atrium

Silent Clowns Film Screening 
The Silent Clowns Film Series is NYC’s longest-running, regularly-scheduled showcase for classic silent film comedy, presenting the silent movies of Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, and others, with live musical accompaniment by renowned silent film composer Ben Model. This family-friendly program also features a Q&A by film historians Ben Model and Steve Massa.

Aptil 14, 11 a.m.
Tickets: Free
Bruno Walter Auditorium
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall LC Kids Storytime
At this relaxed story hour, Caldecott Award–winning illustrator Sophie Blackall (Ruby’s Wish, Ivy & Bean) explores the life of one lighthouse through shifting seasons, changeable weather, and the tenure of its final keeper. Presented in collaboration with Little, Brown Books for Young Reader.

April 21, 11:00 a.m.
Tickets: Free
David Rubenstein Atrium


WeBop is an early-childhood jazz education program for families which invites participants to stomp, strut and swing to the joyous rhythms of jazz as they learn about the core concepts, instruments, and great performers of jazz. With participation from both child and adult, these 45-minute classes offer a creative outlet for families to explore jazz through movement, songs, storytelling, and play.

May 5, multiple sessions, high and low-sensory (see below)
Registration $25 (includes child and adult)
Patron’s Lounge, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall

Class 1: 2:00-2:45 pm | High sensory (teacher + accompanist, plus drums, bass, trumpet/saxophone) Recommended for children ages 5–7 years

Class 2: 3:00-3:45 pm | Low sensory (teacher + accompanist) Recommended for children ages 2–4 years

Class 3: 4:00-4:45 pm | Low sensory (teacher + accompanist) Recommended for children ages 5–7 years

NYCB Access Workshop
This one-hour movement workshop specially designed for children with autism will feature the music, movement, and themes from New York City Ballet’s treasured repertory. NYCB Teaching Artists guide children in a ballet warm-up and movement combination, concluding in a lively performance for accompanying family and friends. No prior dance experience needed.

May 6, 1:00 p.m.
Tickets $14
Samuel B. and David Rose Building, 7th fl.

Big Umbrella Festival
April 14 – May 6
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Multiple Venues
Upper West Side

What will you be seeing at Big Umbrella Festival? Let us know in the comments!

—Mimi O’Connor


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