Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown is striving to make the theater experience more inclusive for all.

On Sunday, Nov. 12 the school offered a sensory-friendly performance of its annual fall-musical, “Grease: School Version.” It marked the eighth year that the Chester County school decided to put on an adapted performance which is a cast favorite.

Sensory-friendly performances are designed to create an experience that is welcoming and supportive of all audience members that may have sensory sensitivities or other special needs.

The tradition began when Mary Jaramillo, mother of a music alum, approached Chuck Keating, Fine Arts Department Chairman and musical producer at the school, about the possibility of adding a performance for families and caregivers of children with special needs. Keating, whose son Michael has special needs, was receptive to Jaramillo’s idea.

For Bishop Shanahan’s sensory-friendly performance, certain production elements were adjusted to soften the experience of the show such as lowering the house lights to about 25 percent and limiting the volume of sound effects as well as strobe lighting.

The performance also offered other accommodations including two break rooms and an activity space with games, fidget toys, and art supplies.

As an added bonus the gymnasium was also open for kids to let out energy and play with balls and hula hoops.

“All of the items [in the gym and activity room] are provided by the Jaramillo family,” said Keating.

All families in attendance received gift bags. Keating, however, believes the best part happens after the show. Following curtain call, the student actors form two lines opposite each other in the lobby and applaud as the audience passes through.

Audience members are then able to pose for pictures with the student actors.

“The kids are so excited and often hug the cast members,” said Keating. “It’s a beautiful moment.”

The main purpose of this sensory-friendly performance is to give families of children with special needs an opportunity to attend a musical as an entire family. Families do not have to worry about their children sitting quietly through an entire performance or if they need to move around.

The Keating family attended the Nov. 12 showing with their son, Michael.

“He is able to attend the performance and he loves it,” said Keating. “This is a safe, welcoming, judgement free zone. It is not easy for families with special needs to go out to shows.”

The annual fall musical has become a tradition not only for Bishop Shanahan High School but also to the greater Chester County community as well.

Five other performances ran from Nov. 16 – Nov. 19 with Archbishop Nelson Pérez visiting Shanahan for the closing matinee that Sunday.

In a message posted to his Facebook account, the archbishop said he had “the joy” of seeing the theatrical production before a packed house. He also commended the student actors and their dedication.

“An amazing cast and crew filled with passion, talent, [and] the fruit of their hard work. So proud of them!”

This year’s performance for those with special needs proved to be a success. An audience of approximately 450 people came out. Keating expects to continue this special school tradition for years to come.

“It’s such an awesome experience,” said Keating. “We look forward to this performance every year.”