Written by Brett Williamson ABC 891 Adelaide
What started as a group of amateur actors with autism reciting scenes out of Red Dwarf has blossomed into a professional actors group.
Company@ offers actors with autism a chance to openly express their emotions and experiences of living with autism, to help them conquer some of the conditions most difficult development restrictions.
Katharine Annear, Autism SA’s senior consultant for adult services and a person with Asperger syndrome, is also the manager for Company@.
“We have 10 members of Company@ who are all people diagnosed with autism or Aspergers.”
As well as the performing staff having autism spectrum diagnoses, as least half of the production staff has been diagnosed with the condition.
“There’s a tendency for the theatre to be a bit didactic, in that it teaches people about the spectrum,” Katharine said.
Autism participants often utilise the stage to share experiences and interpretations of their condition with audience members, letting the crowd see life through the eyes of a person with autism.
“Some of the scenes can be quite confronting… but the way in which we work ensures that everybody involved owns the work, so they are not in a vulnerable position, they are in a powerful position because they are telling their own stories.”
As part of sharing their experiences, the theatre group hope to give an insight into the condition, and will soon produce shows for highschool audiences to give students an understanding of the development disability when it tends to become more prevalent.
“People’s differences become very apparent during adolescence because it is such a time of evolution for human beings, and if you are different, you stand out.
“If you are an individual in a way that is not socially acceptable, then that has ramifications and it can lead to extreme anxiety and depression.”
Audience responses to the show have been wide and varied with the response to one show the performed at the Asia-Pacific Autism conference gaining a remarkable result.
The performance of Framed Out detailed bullying scenes and revealed how a person with autism feels ostracised from the social scene.
“People experienced joy in terms of seeing people express themselves, people openly sobbed because it is very confronting, and finally we got a standing ovation from an audience 800.
“Someone came up to us, who is a professional in the field, and said ‘I learned more in your 20 minute performance about the inside experience, the internal experience of the autism spectrum than I had in years of being a professional’.”
Through providing actors with autism a stage to express and direct their feelings, it also helps to reverse some of the most debilitating parts of the condition, a person’s communication and social skills.
“To see them use acting as a tool to develop those areas and become more self-assured, more resilient, more able to express themselves, more able to connect with each other and with the world around them, I think that’s phenomenal.”
In parallel with the professional actors group, several amateur groups have been created to use the same methods to develop and progress others with autism.
With a particular passion for science fiction and British humour, actors can be found reciting Red Dwarf, Doctor Who and The Goon Show lines.
“The British sensibility and humour is a very Aspergerish kind of sensibility.”
Through the usage of therapy through theatre, Autism SA has managed to build confidence in many people with autism, boosting self confidence and social skills and offering an outlet for participants.
“People on the spectrum are resilient.
“They start off on the back foot, they have a condition that affects them globally, and they do tend to be resilient and we need to tap in to that and help them recognise the skills that they do have.”
Company@ are planning an extended version of Framed Out for a public performance in June.
Details on Company@ and the theatre services offered can be found at the Autism SA website.
Autism SA is a not-for-profit organisation based in Adelaide, South Australia.