Red Kite Round-Up: Multi-Sensory Live Theater for Children with Autism

My youngest son Luke didn’t get the nickname Tasmanian Devil because he likes to sit still.


And while he’s almost completely non-verbal, he is wholly capable of communicating his wants and needs (though sometimes not in ways most people expect). No surprise that we’ve been hesitant to expose him to live theater, imagining our inability to shush him quiet let alone sit down.

That was until we learned about Red Kite Round-Up.

Red Kite Round Up is the latest production by the Red Kite Project, a unique type of multi-sensory live theater and the brainchild of Jacqueline Russell, co-founder and artistic director of the Chicago Children’s Theater.

For years, Russell has been working with children on the autism spectrum, serving as artist in residence at the Agassiz Elementary School in Chicago. Using drama, her students were able to explore and gain a greater understanding of the nuances of emotion and develop stronger social interactions. She developed the Red Kite Project with the help of London’s Oily Cart theater company (an organization focused on serving children with complex disabilities), introducing the first production in April 2008.

Geared specifically for kids on the autism spectrum, Red Kite Round-Up offers a simulated camping adventure, full of opportunities for your child to engage with the performers, sets and story in his own way. Kids are encouraged to run around, jump, talk, sing and touch, and every effort is made to enhance your child’s individual adventure. For Luke, that meant stepping right up and playing Cowboy Ruby’s guitar and Park Ranger Bob’s bass.

Kids get to feel fuzzy caterpillars, pet baby chicks, hunt for fireflies and take a riverboat adventure ride in a rubber raft (complete with waves and water spray). There’s a campfire with singing and stargazing. Each of the performers is energetic and kind, and always looking for creative ways to engage your child. Best of all, there is no shushing or asking your child to sit down.

Even before attending the performance, every effort is made to anticipate and meet your child’s needs. Red Kite offers two different versions of the Round-Up Social Story, one for parents so they know what to expect, and another for the child with a clear schedule of events. And for kids who have as little patience as Luke does, there’s also a multi-sensory waiting room to keep kids entertained while waiting for the show to start.

Red Kite Round Up is presenting its show in Winnetka, at the Winetka Community House, April 14 – May 22. Tickets for all showings can be purchased a, where parents can also obtain comprehensive information on the production.