Feature Stories

Minnetonka Theatre and Unified Club Collaborate to Host Sensory-Friendly Sound of Music Performance

Earlier this month, members of the Minnetonka High School Unified Club and Minnetonka Theatre Sound of Music cast collaborated to host an accessible showing of the holiday musical. MHS is a Special Olympics Champion School that partners with Special Olympics to offer Unified Club and Unified Physical Education, which both support meaningful inclusion in all school activities. 

Senior Chase Kickhaefer spearheaded the idea for the sensory-friendly performance. “I do a lot of theater with the high school and was already in The Sound of Music,” explained Kickhaefer. “I also work as a personal care assistant for a student at the high school. His favorite musical is The Sound of Music, and I thought, ‘He should come to one of the shows!’”

Kickhaefer knew that the musical’s traditional format may pose difficulties for potential attendees with disabilities because of its length and some of the special effects used, and so she brought her idea forward to both Unified and the Minnetonka Theatre directing team, suggesting that they work together on an adapted performance of the show. The proposal was met with excitement from both groups.

Kickhaefer is part of Unified’s small events planning team along with fellow senior Hugh Kelly. In past years, the team has focused on planning weekly athletic events, and it was one of Kickhaefer’s goals to expand opportunities in the arts during her senior year. So, Kelly and Kickhafer worked together to bring the sensory-friendly show to life.

“Chase understands that while my friends and I often have unique needs, we also like to participate in everything that our ‘typical’ peers do - like going to the theater,” said Kelly. “It was her idea to put on a special show that we could all enjoy.” 

Minnetonka Unified student leaders Hugh Kelly '24 and Chase Kickhaefer '24 pose together at the event.

Minnetonka Unified student leaders Hugh Kelly '24 and Chase Kickhaefer '24 pose together at the event.

Kelly and Kickhaefer partnered with Minnetonka Theatre's artistic director Trent Boyum to put on the showing. “The musical was adapted to be lower sound, lower light, shorter in length and to make it more accessible for people with disabilities,” shared Minnetonka Unified advisor Kristin Goeser. Unified Club and Best Buddies members throughout the district were invited to attend free of cost.

Kickhaefer supported the development of the show by helping to choose the songs that would be included. She also worked with the stage and sound crews to change some of the elements to be quieter and without flashing lights. On the night of the event, she was involved as a performer and host. “I sang the first song, The Sound of Music title song, and then I introduced each of the songs to give context, for the storyline to make more sense,” said Kickhaefer. “My favorite part was to see everyone react to it and enjoy it, and having Hugh come up and do his speech at the beginning. It was very heartwarming to be a part of.”

“My role was lots of fun,” said Kelly. “I got to emcee the show with Chase. It was my first experience like that so I was a little nervous–especially when I saw how many people showed up! Behind the scenes, I was also responsible for providing all the snacks. I got to plan the menu so I chose some of my favorite drinks and treats.”

The event was widely attended and appreciated by both Minnetonka Unified and Best Buddies members. Some middle school students interested in participating in high school theater also attended the show, according to Kickhaefer. 

“A lot of people came up to me to say how excited they were to be there or how excited their kids were,” said Kickhaefer. “I’ve seen videos after the show of parents filming their kids singing songs from The Sound of Music at home. It was definitely very special and impacted a lot of people! It makes me want to do it again.”

Kelly also enjoyed both participating in the event and sharing the evening with others. “I enjoyed both being the emcee and watching the show. I love music and the performances were amazing–especially Chase’s song!” he said. “I also really liked hanging out with all of my friends and their families afterward. Everyone was happy and very complimentary. It was a great night.”

“Students who may never otherwise feel comfortable in a theater had the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate the music, acting and many talents of Minnetonka Theatre!” said Goeser. “We hope their example paves the way for future sensory-friendly shows.”

Great work, Skippers!

Minnetonka Unified Club members pose together at the sensory-friendly Sound of Music performance.

Minnetonka Unified Club members pose together at the sensory-friendly Sound of Music performance.

 

Girls smiling

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