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Biscuit. Hedgehog. Biscuit.

In her show Backstage in Biscuit Land, which arrives at Harbourfront Centre on Wednesday, the performer Jess Thom offers three monologues, one that involves an experience she describes as "humiliating." Thom had attended a performance at a London theatre, where during the intermission she was asked by the front-of-house manager to move from her seat to a sound booth.

Thom has Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary verbal tics. In her case, the condition manifests itself by the Londoner saying "biscuit" and "hedgehog" repeatedly and uncontrollably – up to a reported 16,000 times a day. After patrons at the theatre complained, Thom was separated from the rest of the audience.

Initially the incident discouraged Thom from attending theatre productions thereafter. But then, in an act of rebellion against what she saw as an exclusionary practice, she decided to develop a play that dealt with the issue of accessibility and exclusivity in the theatre world. The result is Backstage in Biscuit Land, an autobiographical, puppet-happy, absurdist and somewhat spontaneous piece in which a wheelchair-bound Thom asks just one thing of society: to relax.

"I've been made to feel unwelcome and excluded from performances," says Thom, speaking last week from New York, where Backstage in Biscuit Land made its North American premiere. "I don't want the experiences I've endured to be repeated by other people."

To that end, Backstage in Biscuit Land, part of Harbourfront Centre's World Stage program, is presented as a "relaxed" performance, in which theatregoers who are disabled or who have noisy children or who are on the autistic spectrum or who have Tourette's are encouraged to attend.

Whether in the guise of her superhero alter ego on stage or as an artist educator and workshop facilitator, Thom has dedicated herself to the empowerment of people with Tourette's in particular and to theatre inclusivity in general.

"There's so much available theatre," Thom says, her sentences fluidly peppered with the innocuous two words she cannot help but say. "I don't want anyone to miss out because of preconceptions on how it should be enjoyed."

Relaxed performances, now common in Britain and slowly growing in Canada, are not just about allowing for spontaneous noise. Traditional theatre etiquette provides for the expectations of stillness and silence. In loosening that atmosphere, the goal is to provide a less anxious environment. So-called "sensory-friendly performances" involve the absence of strobe lights and violent technical effects, and feature houses that are half-lit.

At Harbourfront, World Stage artistic director Tina Rasmussen endeavours not only to accommodate theatregoers who have sensory disorders or neurological conditions, but she's been working with the staff to make adjustments to ensure the experience is positive for everyone.

To Rasmussen, programs such as relaxed performances are just part of a bigger discussion. "How do we make theatre more attractive to more people, and for it to be a place that reflects our humanity and to reflect our lives."

As for Thom, her goal is simple. "My aim," she says, "is to change the world one tic at a time."

Asked about the caped-crusader costume she wears on stage, Thom explains that it refers to a life-changing realization. "I came to understand that my tics were my power, and not my problem. And I'd like to encourage other people to find their powers too."

Biscuit. Hedgehog. Bravo.

Backstage in Biscuit Land runs until Saturday at Harbourfront Centre Theatre (416-973-4000 or

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