It’s funny how time flies!
I asked my good friend Gretta to respond after the show. Since we’re on the subject of coaches, it seems only appropriate to include a post by Gretta. After all – sports and arts really aren’t THAT different.
Coach = Director
Actors = Players
Script = Playbook
Audience = Fans
Players = Athletes
Being married to a former superstar athlete has taught me this very thing. Our passion is the same…our description is different. Please welcome my friend and mentor, Gretta…
My last two “guest posts” talked about the process of creating the devised production WONDER land which was held on the UNI campus this past weekend. The production had a six performance run; two for school only audiences and four for the “general” public. The school performances included students Kindergarten through 8th grade, and the schools invited to attend were asked to INCLUDE young people with autism and other development needs, AND their typical peers. The four public performances included audiences ages 4-84. Again, some were on the spectrum; many were not. Altogether, more than 450 individuals saw WONDER land, and given the interactive nature of the play, and the diversity of our audiences, each performance was unique…a theatrical adventure in and of itself.
I considered writing about the delight I took in watching audiences respond and interact with the show. I thought about a submission that described the impact the show had on my university aged actors. I pondered a piece that would try to capture my own reflections about the experience, one that described what I felt were our successes and the weaknesses that came to light once the show was actually being performed and how I would “do it different” next But in the end, I have decided to write about Henry. Because at the center of it all, what Henry did mattered the most. Let me explain.
Henry is 10 years old. He LOVES the theatre. It is my custom to invite young people into my rehearsal process, and WONDER land was no exception. At various times during the development process, teams of young people ranging in age from 8-15 including spectrum youth and their typical peers, were invited to watch, respond and then share feedback, helping both myself and the actors refine, improve, expand or discard ideas that we had developed. When the show went into “official” rehearsal mode 5 nights a week for four weeks, young people were invited to be a part of that process as well. John is on the spectrum. He came on Monday nights to watch and participate. Henry, and his older brother Noah came on Wednesday nights. Noah is on the spectrum; Henry is not. And on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, the cast was stuck with me. I am not on the spectrum but I am bossy and demanding
A week before opening one of the university student became ill, and in the days that followed it was obvious to us all that she would be unable to perform. What to do? Five days from opening and a key role to fill. The collaborative nature of our work insured that everyone knew the part everyone placed in each of the 8 sequences that collectively were WONDER land. The challenge was that in some cases it was impossible for them to successfully do their “part” and that of another. No matter how we “shifted” things around, a gap remained in three essential moments. Our solution…Henry. Henry and his brother had been coming to so many rehearsals that they not only knew the order of the show but also knew the blocking, business and lines of all the actors. I approached them both with the idea. Noah made it clear he had no intention of missing school or changing other plans to accommodate the show’s performance schedule.
Henry’s response, “when can I start?”
Henry’s mother had reservations. “Yes,” she said. “He can do the show but are you sure? I mean, he’s not on the spectrum.”
“I’m sure,” I replied. “He’s perfect”
And he was.
Because, at the heart of it all, this wasn’t a play about what a kid on the spectrum could do. And it wasn’t a play about what theatre can do for spectrum youth. This was a play about what we ALL can do for one another. Henry did more than fill a gap. His role in the show was so much larger than playing the manatee, being the “bat” that hit the ball or upstaging Tweedledum as the Karate Kid! Henry’s presence in the show brought to life the soul of our production…that play is accessible to everyone. Play brings people together.
To me, Henry modeled inclusion. As he swam across the stage, hit the home run and dismantled the foam bricks with one hefty karate chop, Henry shared with every single young person in the theatre, those on the spectrum and those who are not, the power of play; the delight that can be found in working with others, the happiness experienced when you do what you love, and the joy to be found in being included.
So…have you played today?