Celebration Cinema to host showtimes for those with special needs

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Celebration Cinema in Benton Township will add a new movie-going experience for customers starting Sept. 26.

Known as Sensory Showtimes, the theater will present current movies with modifications intended to provide a more comfortable and welcoming experience for audience members. The experience is designed for individuals and families with special needs, including autism.

“We’ve worked with Family Hope Foundation and several other terrific community organizations who have helped us recognize the need for this kind of presentation,” said Emily Loeks, a director of community affairs for Celebration Cinema. “We’re excited to be expanding the program and making it public.”

The volume of the presentation will be lower, auditorium lights will dim but remain on, movies will be shown in 2-D with open-captioning and begin at its expected show time with limited previews. Loeks said the environment will be more candid as cheering, calling out, or strolling around the theater is welcome.

Sensory Showtimes will be presented once a month at 10:30 a.m. on Saturdays at select Celebration Cinema locations, including Benton Township, Grand Rapids and Portage.

This anticipated programming has been in development for a few years, Loeks said.

Celebration Cinema in Grand Rapids had joined with Family Hope Foundation, where the charity ran the program to make adjustments to the theatrical settings.

“The stress of managing both your child’s disability and how they are received by society is often too great a barrier for parents and they choose to just stay home,” said Lara Kitts, executive director from Family Hope Foundation. “Offering an emotionally safe way to have fun together means so much to our families.”

In spring, Loeks said, they decided to add it to other locations across the state. The move was a way of setting up a culture that makes it “OK to be yourself” in a movie theater.

“If your kid cheers, cries out or is more responsive than others, that is perfectly understood and fine here,” Loeks said. “I was watching the audience grow over the last few years and saw this was an unmet need. Parents were often in a situation where they had to do different activities with their children who had different needs. Now they can do something together as a family.”

Movies that will be shown in the morning once a month for Sensory Showtimes will be new releases and family friendly.

The schedule fluctuates as Sensory Showtimes will take place the Saturday after a new movie is released in order to keep the program current.

On Sept. 26, Sensory Showtimes will play “Hotel Transylvania 2.”

“The Peanuts Movie” will be played Nov. 14, “The Good Dinosaur” on Dec. 12 and the start of the new year will be capped off with the showing of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on Jan. 2.

“We aim to create space where people can connect with each other and experience great stories together,” Loeks said. “We hope that Sensory Showtimes opens the door for individuals and families with special needs to have that experience.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Sept. 4, 2015)

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