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'Sensory-sensitive' take in a film

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sissonville resident John Ward hadn't heard much about the film, but he was still excited to see "The Croods" on Tuesday morning.

"I like the movies," said Ward, 52.

For many people, a trip to a movie theater like Park Place Stadium Cinemas is common. But for those with developmental disabilities, like Ward, dark movie theaters with their crowds and loud noises can be forbidding places.

On Tuesday morning, though, the downtown Charleston movie theater was a little more inviting for those with autism and other disabilities.

The theater partnered with Arc of the Three Rivers for the city's first "sensory-sensitive" cinema event.

"It's really cool for the theater to open up like this," said Tim Conaway, who works at Arc of the Three Rivers, an agency that works with people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. "A lot of the folks don't get an opportunity to come to stuff like this because of the fear of crowds and stuff like that."

Conaway said the people he works with had been looking forward to seeing the movie.

"For the last few days [the excitement has] just been building up," Conaway said.

For the special showing of "The Croods," theater lights were kept halfway up, and the volume on the movie was halfway down. There were no on-screen notices to keep quiet during the film.

Moviegoers were allowed to bring in snacks to suit special diets. The movie, typically a 3D computer-animation film, was shown in 2D instead. The theater opened early Tuesday for the special 9:30 a.m. showing, which was open to the general public.

Jennifer McCafferty, an employee at Arc of the Three Rivers, came up with the idea after reading an article about sensory-sensitive cinema. None of the movie theaters in the state offered such a service, so she approached Greater Huntington Theatre Corp., which owns Park Place, with the idea.

The city of Charleston also helped by opening up its nearby parking garage for the early screening. Mayor Danny Jones met with people as they came through the theater's front doors.

If Tuesday's event went well, McCafferty hoped to make sensory-sensitive cinema a regular event.

"Our mission is we are trying to bring awareness of people with disabilities and to erase the stigma," she said.

Theater manager Mike Tawney said Greater Huntington Theatres was happy to help. He said the locally owned company is not bound by corporate policies that would prohibit such an event.

"It's just common decency, I would think," Tawney said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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