Lighthouse Theatre’s relaxed performances offer a more inclusive theatre to community

By Mike Renzella | The Haldimand Press

June 15, 2023

PORT DOVER—Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s summer season is well underway with its second show ‘On The Air’ now on stage in Port Dover while its first production, ‘Come Down From Up River’ is now on stage at Port Colborne’s Roselawn Theatre.

Returning after last year’s debut season is Lighthouse’s relaxed performances, offering enhanced accessibility and inclusion options. Each of the five summer season shows include a relaxed performance, with the next being ‘On The Air’ on Friday, June 23.

Some distinguishing features of the relaxed performances include personal space seating options; adjusted lighting and sound effects; welcoming vocalizations from attendees and interaction with the cast and crew; storyboards and visual guides that are available ahead of the show; an option to leave the theatre mid-show with the performance being broadcast to a TV in the lobby; and the freedom to move around during the show.

The initiative is funded in part through the Ontario Trillium Foundation, allowing Lighthouse’s Relaxed Performance Co-ordinator Jaymieson O’Neill to develop this special program for both theatre locations. 

“We started in Port Dover last year,” shared O’Neill. “We have a committee we meet with to share insights and get guidance from. It’s a collection of community organization representatives and individuals from the community with lived experience.”

O’Neill, who has a Masters in Applied Health through Leisure Studies and Positive Psychology, is thrilled with the opportunity to apply her skills in such a unique environment.

“The response from the community has been fantastic. The response from staff and volunteers at Lighthouse has been phenomenal. They’re all excited and want to contribute. It makes it easy to do these types of initiatives when people are on board to help,” she said.

While the relaxed performances allow for community members with diverse abilities to attend, O’Neill was adamant that they are open to everyone else in the community as well.

“It’s been nice to hear the community members say how refreshing it’s been,” said O’Neill, “Even if they don’t think it’s something that would be constructive to them, we hope they will find the things we’ve put in place would be beneficial to anybody.”

She said that the cast, crew, and volunteers at the theatre are all on board, engaging in training sessions ahead of the relaxed performances.

O’Neill said the process starts with her reviewing the season’s scripts, looking for potentially “jarring” moments in productions that might need to be altered: “Say it’s more of a thriller; we need to be cognizant of police sirens, gunshots, things like that – then we’ll negotiate all of that adjustment beforehand, and then I construct an hour-long training with each cast group.”

She said that making the cast and crew comfortable is integral to the success of the initiative, iterating how each show’s performance is unique, with its own challenges and opportunities. 

“We talk a lot about inclusion for diverse abilities and recognizing that some folks, the way they’re going to engage with you, showing that they’re excited about the experience, may sound or look differently than what they’ve experienced before as a cast,” she explained. “It’s about creating that understanding and opening up that mindset.”

She said that staff and volunteers do an on-the-day huddle where they discuss who is coming to visit, inclusive practices and language, and the best way to engage in a helpful, friendly way.

“We want people to feel that it’s of value to them and they’re part of the experience, instead of something that’s happening in front of them. We want them to feel like they’re in the experience with the actors and the staff from Lighthouse,” concluded O’Neill. “It’s really exciting to see the culture of the theatre as they’re learning more about these accessibility and inclusion principles.”

For more information on Lighthouse’s summer season, including their schedule of upcoming relaxed performances, visit