Designing Inclusive Theatre: How Balloonacy is Offering Access

Balloonacy2Many people remember their first theatre experience as a child: The lights go low, quiet sweeps the seats and you sit still, waiting for the action to begin. It can be a magical experience. But for a large number of children and families, the dark settings along with the surprises and loud noises of live performances can be a deterrence from attending the theatre at all.

These obstacles have led to the development of sensory-friendly stage productions.  The growing movement of sensory-friendly performances in both live theatre as well as cinema allows for an experience that is welcoming to all families, including those with children with autism or other sensory challenges. On November 4th and 5th, Balloonacy will be COCA’s first foray into this unique theatre event.

“When we decided to do Balloonacy, we felt the show was not only fun and creative but also well suited to reach this expanded audience,” says Shawna Flanigan.

Balloonacy stars COCA alumnus Will Bonfiglio, as a man who discovers the fun, imagination and companionship of childhood with a red balloon. The play is silent, save for the underscore of live music and Foley sounds created and performed by COCA Music Director Colin Healy.

To help the COCA team make Balloonacy the best experience possible, Missy Wright, an employee of the Special School District of St. Louis County, has been brought on as a consultant both leading up to the show as well as throughout the weekend.

Every sensory-friendly production is unique. Here is what you can expect at COCA during Balloonacy:


  • Prior to show weekend, a Balloonacy Family Guide will be sent out to all ticket holders detailing all that will be taking place onsite and during the performance.
  • House management will be opening the theatre early for patrons and children to get in and get settled in their seats.

Outside the Theatre

  • Outside of the theatre, there will be a quiet area where patrons will be able to go to decompress and relax with activities like coloring sheets.

In the Theatre

  • The house lights in Founders’ Theatre will stay on during the entire show.
  • This show feature no loud noises. The only sound will be coming from stage, where Healy will be playing live music and sound effects.
  • There will be an area in the back of the house for patrons who need to stand or pace during the show. COCA will also have stress relievers and fidgets available for those patrons.
  • Facilitators will be available to assist patrons in the house to ensure that we are meeting their needs.

“I’m tremendously excited about so many aspects of this sweet and silly play,” says Flanigan. “The fact that it is performed without words by an exceptional St. Louis actor, Will Bonfiglio, who is always so fun to watch. I’m also so looking forward to having Colin Healy, who is such a talented composer and musician, creating and performing an incredible score and live foley sound effects to highlight and enhance the physical comedy. On top of that, the play has a beautiful message about the power of play and the magic of friendship to elevate us from the everyday. Its sure to be an entertaining and uplifting afternoon in the theatre!”

Balloonacy takes the stage November 4-5 with show times at 1:00PM and 5:00PM.

Purchase Tickets Here 

Download the Family Guide Here

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