Header photo of girl and mother embracing at the Lion King Sensory Friendly performance

Hakuna Matata for All: Sensory Friendly Performance of the Lion King Opens Doors for Autistic Patrons

Wed, Oct 16, 2019

Written by: Written by Grace Wong, Photos by Emily O'Donnell

On September 14, nearly two thousand people came to the Benedum Center to enjoy the Sensory Friendly performance of Disney’s The Lion King. With an abundance of stress balls handed out by volunteers, a special activities area on the second floor for patrons to chill out in, moderately dimmed lights in the theater space, and noise-cancelling devices available for patrons to borrow, the staff and volunteers behind the Cultural Trust took tremendous measures to provide families a comfortable theater experience. Several family members happily noted that with the many volunteers stationed in the theater and garage spaces, “there were always people available to ask a question.” For the second time around (the Trust had their first Sensory Friendly Performance of Disney’s The Lion King back in 2013), the Trust was able to make Hakuna Matata available for all.

All in all, the Cultural Trust set a prime example for how arts organizations can make their programs more welcoming to kids and adults in the autism spectrum or individuals who may require the features of a sensory friendly performance. As one of nine other organizations in the country selected to present this special performance of Disney's The Lion King, the Trust is proud of its footprint in keeping Pittsburgh vibrant and accessible.

Take a visual dive into how the afternoon turned out, with some photographs from the performance!


Benedum greeter smiles outside the theater doors

Volunteers handed out stress balls, assisted guests throughout the performance, and helped out in the activities center.


Girl playing with fidget spinner in the activity center

At the activity center, patrons were able to relax with board games, coloring stations, and fidget spinners.

Kid smiling and playing with stress ball in the theater while mother hugs son

Patrons got to chill out with stress balls during the performance. There were many happy families!

Family posing for a photo with giraffe made out of flip-flops, from Ocean Sole Africa

The flip-flop giraffe by Ocean Sole Africa made a guest appearance at the Benedum and was a popular favorite!


Several families also took to social media to gush about their experience at the sensory friendly performance. Have a look at what they had to say:






A post shared by Deana (@deanab1979) on


The ability to welcome this audience into the Cultural District and into our theater was a gift, and it would not have been possible without the support of Disney Theatrical Productions, Autism Connection of PA, UPMC and UPMC Health Plan, Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust, FISA Foundation, Jack Buncher Foundation, The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, and Carlson Lynch LLP.