Volunteer Spotlight: Caitlin Naylor

September 26th, 2023

The first time I ever met Caitlin Naylor, she was smiling. Of course.
That was at the first dance rehearsal for PCS’s 2018 production of “Guys and Dolls,” and like everyone in the room, I quickly noticed the fast feet and beaming expression of the smallest of the “Hot Box Girls.” Caitlin became a key part of that show – both on stage and backstage, as one of the “glue” people who make it fun and keep a cast together.
“Guys and Dolls” was Caitlin’s first experience with PCS and, she says, “I made deep, lasting friendships during those months.” Since then, she’s been part of 12 shows at the theater. She’s easy to spot – just look for the big smile.
“I love it because I get to know people I otherwise wouldn’t have met,” she says. “Theater brings together people of all ages, backgrounds and cultural upbringings.”
And her involvement with PCS goes beyond entertaining audiences and making new friends. She spearheaded the move to bring “relaxed performances” to the theater to make it more accessible to audiences, including neurodiverse theatergoers of all ages.
Caitlin got the idea when she attended a sensory-friendly performance of the Pennsylvania Ballet’s “Nutcracker.” Before the show, performers walked on stage in costume, explaining that they might look scary, but were really just people playing a role. They previewed musical segments that might frighten young audience members. They walked through the story, explaining lighting cues and other potential surprises. They also gave the audience a chill-out zone in the lobby if needed and gave ticket holders a lot of specifics about the production before they stepped foot in the theater.
Caitlin, who studied education at St. Joseph’s University, says, “That lit a spark for me. If they could do that at a huge venue like the Academy of Music, why couldn’t we do it?”
She brought a strategy for “relaxed performances” to the PCS Board of Governors. It took some convincing, she says, but the idea took hold. “Special praise to Jeff Martin, who was then president,” she says.
PCS is now the first community theater to partner with the organization Art-Reach (https://www.art-reach.org/) to offer more diverse programming, as well as reduced ticket prices through the organization’s ACCESS Program.
Each production features one performance geared to be inclusive to a neurodiverse audience. Audience members receive a “know as you go” document with details on run time, intermission and aspects of the show that might prove alarming – such as violence, strobe lighting, fog or mature language.
PCS volunteers working the ticket booth and lobby offer noise-canceling headphones and tactile fidget items that allow potentially nervous theater goers to keep their hands busy. Audience members are told during the pre-show talk to feel free to walk back to the lobby – at any time – if things become overly loud or stimulating. And everyone knows that, for this performance, the theater becomes “a no-shush zone.”
I’ve personally been on stage for several relaxed performances. I can say from experience that nothing in the show changes – not the lines, the pacing or the sound effects. I’ve noticed an occasional young theater goer need to get up for a break, or perhaps an adult audience member speak a little loudly.
But you know what? It’s never distracted me, fellow cast members or – I believe – anyone in the theater. Caitlin has succeeded in helping make our shows enjoyable to everyone.
“We’ve gotten great feedback,” says Caitlin. “Mostly I hear it from parents who tell me this is the first time their children have been able to get through a show, or from adults who say they appreciate how we make it comfortable for them. We don’t just do this for the children’s shows – because people don’t stop having special needs just because they’ve turned 21. We offer relaxed performances for all PCS productions.”
PCS has now become a model for other local theaters, several of which have reached out for advice. And as the only community theater that is part of the Art-Reach ACCESS Program, we are able to be part of a discount ticket program offering opportunity to those in financial need. (That program also includes spots like Longwood Gardens, the Please Touch Museum, the Franklin Institute and other local treasures).
“Many of those places have blackout dates,” says Caitlin. “But for PCS, we have no blackouts. You can use those discount tickets for any performance. Special thanks to George Mulford, who really pushed for that.”
Caitlin grew up in Springfield (“a true Delco kid,” she says). At St. Joe’s she had a double major in elementary and special education, minored in autism studies, faith justice studies as well as fine and performing arts. She later studied applied behavior analysis. Not a light load.
“I’m actually using all of this now,” she says.
After four years working as a special ed teacher in Aston and six as an elementary teacher and reading specialist in Radnor, she has landed “my dream job” as school librarian at Chestnutwold Elementary School in Havertown. In her free time she also adjuncts courses at Neumann University and Chestnut Hill College. Her favorite is an autism course.
And, of course, she’s deeply involved at PCS. Her first experience with the theater?
“I came to watch ‘Chicago’ in 2017 and I remember thinking, this is not community theater; this is too good. These people are like professionals,” she recalls. “I just wanted to dance in the corner.”
It took a while to get up that courage. “I didn’t realize I was a theater kid until I hit 30,” she says. “I always liked going to the theater, but now this is my group. I’ve made great friends.”
In addition to acting, Caitlin did choreography for “Theory of Relativity” and “SchoolHouse Rock, Jr.” And she and fellow PCS regular Jess Wisniewski have taught and plan to offer more lessons for aspiring tap dancers in their group called “Tap That Rhythm.”
Her favorite shows to be part of include “Guys and Dolls,” “Sister Act,” “Something Rotten” and “Yo Vikings!” This fall, you’ll see Caitlin in the PCS production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“I play a bearded bottle dancer,” she says. “I’m not sure anyone will recognize me.”
Sure we will. Just look for that smile.
For more information on Relaxed Performances, please visit our website: https://pcstheater.org/about-pcs/what-is-a-relaxed-performance/

(Written by Glen Macnow)

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