The History of Big Umbrella Festival

Accessibility has been part of Lincoln Center’s core initiatives since its early days, with the formation of Programs and Services for People with Disability, the first department of its kind at a major performing arts organization. Since 1989, Passport to the Arts has welcomed young people with disabilities to explore mainstream performances with their families. Big Umbrella expanded upon this foundation by presenting new artistic works specifically designed for young people with autism.

Big Umbrella began with a commission with New York-based theater company Trusty Sidekick, who created Up and Away in 2015. The show was developed over the course of two years of research, play, and experimentation. Trusty Sidekick used multisensory drama workshops with kids on the autism spectrum to test out material developed in the rehearsal room.

In April 2018, Lincoln Center wanted to continue building experiences created and shared on campus, which informed the creation of the inaugural Big Umbrella Festival. During the month-long festival, Big Umbrella also showcased international productions, hosting two companies from England (Oily Cart) and Australia (Sensorium Theatre) with Trusty Sidekick rounding out the Festival’s programs.


A Professional Development course for artists and arts administrators interested in developing work for people with autism and other developmental disabilities was hosted by Big Umbrella in 2018.

Oily Cart, Sensorium Theatre, and Trusty Sidekick also joined the Big Umbrella Symposium, ‘The Intersection of the Arts and Autism’ in 2018, a dedicated day discussing how the power of the arts be harnessed to impact young people on the autism spectrum as audience members and artists. Expert practitioners from CO/LAB, ActionPlay, Nest+m, TDF Accessibility, and Sesame Workshop also joined the symposium.

After a year of virtual programs in 2020, Lincoln Center welcomed audiences back for live, in-person events in the spring of 2021. We ended our summer with Big Umbrella Outdoors, a weekend dedicated specifically to audiences with autism and other developmental disabilities and their families. Friday night was geared towards teens and young adults with performances from EPIC Players as well as a silent disco, while Saturday and Sunday were geared towards families with performances from Squonk Opera and EPIC as well as an interactive dance piece with Ballet for All Kids and dance and art-making workshops. All three days also included two interactive installations: Swingset Drumkit and OrchidsPlayscape. You can view the digital program for Big Umbrella Outdoors here.


We are actively planning the future of Big Umbrella. Please stay tuned for more events to come!

If you are interested in being a part of Big Umbrella as an artist, audience member, or presenter, please contact us via email at [email protected].