I would have posted this as my post on Friday, but since I had a pre-chosen post for Friday and Saturday, and clearly Sunday was reserved for a Mother’s Day post, I pushed this one back to today. I have license to do that, after all!
Clearly, last week was a heyday for my blogging and autism experience. The post on Tuesday was a request for funds for Autism Speaks, through my own experience. On Saturday, I did “canning” for Autism Speaks in downtown Evanston, and on Thursday (yes, I intentionally went not in chronological order there), I saw a play designed for children with autism.
The background: Autism Speaks U at Northwestern partnered with the Purple Crayon Players this year to create a theatrical production that is “fully sensory.” The Purple Crayon Players are a student group that creates children’s theatre at NU. In addition to a few runs of the show this weekend solely for kids on the spectrum, they had two performances solely for Northwestern students, to get a glimpse at what it is like.
I gave my “autism story” to the performance group during the winter quarter when they were learning more about the condition in a seminar-style class. They gave me information about the performances, and I was strongly encouraged to attend one of the sessions for college students. That was one reason for my alacrity to attend this event, and of course the other reason: see it through a mature autistic’s perspective and imagine how I might have reacted to it as a child!
So, with a few members of Autism Speaks U, I arrived at Shanley Hall in the rain after going to the senior recital of a friend from Hillel on Thursday. From physical wetness to figurative wetness, in the show’s theme, “Diving In.” It had a waiting room for the kids prior to the show, with interactive items such as balls to throw around (one of them that was bumpy I ended up obsessively playing with!), hula hoops (I am terrible at it!) and rubber ducks in a pond, among other things. In addition to dribbling the ball, I chatted with some of the other people on stage, since that was fine with me (and them!) A beach chair with an umbrella also caught my attention.
Prior to entering the stage, we saw a “social story”– a video that explicitly mentioned any important procedural information about the show in a “kid-friendly voice,” as well as visuals for accepting or rejecting offers during the show: “yes please” or “no thank you.” These have apparently become more common for people with autism, and may have been nice for me to have when my age was in the single digits. However, that is what research can do! Each person on stage was assigned to an adventure guide (in the shows for the kids, it was a one-to-one mapping, but for the college students, it was one-guide-to-multiple-people) who acted as a facilitator, acting out some of the parts and encouraging the person to interact as appropriate.
After the social story, we “swam” through a short tunnel to the stage, which had soft pillows and chairs on the “rear” circumference of the circular stage. A blue lighting was in the area, and it was intended to mimic the sea. In the center of the stage was a pillar with five different sea creatures (merman, seahorse, puffer fish, crab, and octopus). The show consisted of five parts–each one describing a short story of the character. The merman was the “emcee” of the show, as the cast sang and danced on stage, with all of the adventure guides following suit. It was a treasure hunt, with each character producing a short vignette about their “treasure.”
My major reactions: I enjoyed the interactive parts when everyone got up to “swim in the current” between each vignette. In these currents, bubbles flew, paper fans blew air, people “swam” with their adventure guides and/or the performers, and mist from spray bottles wafted. I accepted all offers as is, but if I had gone to this show as a young child, I probably would have strongly rejected the mist, but been OK with the bubbles and fans. The moving about, as well, I would have liked a lot.
I won’t give a complete synopsis of the show in this post, but highlight something that stuck out to me. The crab’s vignette it included the “treasure” of hiding in the shell, and came complete with umbrellas and blankets, two of my favorite things when I was young. If I were younger, I would not have let go of the blanket for the remainder of the show, and even in this show, I decided to show my younger self with an attachment to the blanket. Everyone has a childish impulse in them, and blankets are obviously one of mine! It wasn’t quite as comfortable as the blankets that Aunt Soni has sewn for me, of course 🙂
After the show, everyone got a “treasure” which was a large blue bead (akin to the pieces in Mancala sets but larger), and “swam” away from the stage. The crew (tech, guides, and performers) all were very glad to have performed it for us–it was their first run in front of an audience, as their runs for the children with autism would come later in the weekend.
One of my friends was the master electrician for this show, and also blogged about it. She was very excited that I enjoyed it, and indeed. I think this was a wonderful undertaking, and I hope that it went over well with the parents and their kids with autism. Her blog post has a different take, but it is so interesting to get disparate opinions on the same thing. That’s what makes the world go ’round!
Today is the thirteenth day of MAPLE–that makes one week and six days.
היום שמונה וארבעים יום. שהם ששה שבועות וששה ימים לעמר