Updates for The Duck

In these unprecedented times it’s hard to know what to say. One of the advantages of being autistic is that I often turn to just saying what I want to at these times, rather than falling back on meaningless platitudes. It doesn’t feel like a time for platitudes, it feels like a time for honesty.

As I’m writing we’ve just been told that schools will close on Friday and the isolation that has felt imminent for a long time might finally be arriving. I have felt like there is a small cat circling and pacing on my chest for the past few weeks. It’s been difficult to sit still and concentrate with too much nervous energy. I have planted far more seedlings than I had intended to. Each time I sat down to do some work at the computer I would receive another cancellation, either for The Duck or for my own work of public speaking and training events.

Meanwhile other events such as The Edinburgh Festival have announced that they plan to go ahead, but the Crowd Funder I had planned and that was set to go live end of March to raise the money for Edinburgh suddenly felt really crass and out of place in this new world.

I was driving to pick the children up from school yesterday, knowing that there are only two more days before they shut for an undefined amount of time. People were chatting on the streets and everything seemed normal as I drove through villages, but I felt the same thing that I experienced driving through shortly after my son was born; the whole world is different and no one seems to really know that yet.

Currently some of our performances in June have been cancelled – completely understandably (check here for updated events), this is a time when we have to put the health and safety of our audience first. I would never forgive myself if I was the cause of someone’s poor health.

Unfortunately this also means that our other means of raising funds for Edinburgh Fringe are reduced, and alongside the fact that I am self-employed and have had my other work cancelled too, this is no small concern. We have already signed a contract to pay for the venue in Edinburgh in advance which is due shortly, and at a time of financial hardship this could see the end of Autact’s journey.

I am so grateful that writing is already giving me a creative outlet for my worries. I am writing a poem a day for as long as I remember to; to help me process all the change and difference on the horizon. I have planned as much as I can. I have problem solved to my limits.

There is an idea that autistic people don’t need people in the same ways as others do, but that simply isn’t true. We tend not to be good at the ‘little and often’ approach, we tend to prefer to binge on socialising and then rest like a torpid snake. Isolation is going to be difficult for everyone and we need to look after each other as much as possible.

When all this is over we are going to need the Arts to come together again. We are going to need to work through what has happened and celebrate the heroic efforts of those on the frontline throughout this; our cleaners, our shelf stackers, our checkout workers, our nurses, our porters, our doctors, our delivery drivers, our paramedics, and so many more behind the scenes working to keep things going so that we can protect ourselves.

Whilst we are not going to be going ahead with the crowdfunder I have set up a page for anyone who wants to support us at this time. You can find more information about ways to support The Duck here, where you can watch my now completely out of date video that I made for the crowdfunder, and enjoy the fact that whilst I was trying to record it a couple of ducks distracted me.

I’ve also made my short collection of poems available on Kindle to buy if you’d prefer to have something to read as well!

Please do not donate anything that will leave you out of pocket, you can also support us by sharing our work and telling people about the show. If you have bought tickets for any of our shows already then please get in touch with the venues directly.

Above all we wish you health and happiness.

Love

Rhi

A Considerate Performance

Our Considerate Performance was designed by our autistic writer, Rhi Lloyd-Williams, and is based on her knowledge and experience of autism. Here is her explanation for why relaxed performances don’t work for some autistic adults:

I like to describe The Duck as a Considerate Performance. We often hear of Relaxed Performances, and these are great for many people, but they can cause problems for those of us with additional sensory issues. They are also often loosely defined as ‘Relaxed’ with not enough information about what that actually means; should we all lie down? What if I feel tense? What if I don’t know how to relax?!

It can make the un-relaxed  performances seem easier to navigate even though they may be much harder in other ways, because at least you know the rules surrounding a tense performance.

‘Relaxed’ can mean that people are free to wander around the room during the show, which those of us unable to block out visual information can find distracting. ‘Relaxed’ can mean people feel free to open their noisy packets of crisps or chat, which for someone who struggles with sounds and odours, can be difficult.

And then there are more questions; if people can move around, does that mean they can walk onto the stage or does it just mean you can move in your seat? What if someone else stands in front of me, am I allowed to ask them to move if the rules say that they are allowed to walk about? Too many variables means uncertainty and uncertainty can make people feel anxious.

Relaxed Performances are fantastic and open up the theatre to many people who would otherwise not be able to access it, but is ‘Relaxed’ too vague a term, and too broad an idea? Is it something that was designed for children that has been adapted for adults, instead of something designed for adults specifically?

I believe that accessibility for autistic adults is about giving choice, autonomy and respect to everyone. It’s not necessarily about making the space perfect for everyone – in fact I don’t believe that’s possible, we will always have different, sometimes even conflicting needs, but what we can do is give you control over choosing what is right for you.

The Duck does not claim to be a safe space for autistic people, because I don’t believe that’s something any space could ever claim to be. However we do claim to be an understanding space and a space where you are safe to be yourself.

You can find out more about how our considerate performance works on our Performance Accessibility Information page

Rhi Lloyd-Williams writes about autism on her website Autistrhi.com and works as a public speaker and trainer on autism, as well as being a poet and playwright

Endings and Beginnings

Rhi Lloyd-Williams

by Rhi Lloyd-Williams

What a year!

2019 saw our play The Duck: a glimpse into one autistic woman’s world, performing at Fringe Festivals, Conferences and (of course) so many fabulous theatres around the UK.

It was a real privilege to have been a part of the post-show Q&As. Hearing how people feel about this autistic woman, baring all (metaphorically) and showing all the parts of her that a lifetime taught her to keep quiet, was incredible.

What always amazes me most about sharing my experience of autism with the world, is just how much people share back. When you’ve grown up unsure about who you are supposed to be, and you’ve been taught that your natural ways of communicating are so often misunderstood, it is a risky business reclaiming the truth through showing people who you are – the good bits and the more difficult bits.

There’s always a risk that people will reject you all over again, but thankfully that wasn’t where 2019 took us. We engaged with so many new audiences, we developed new ways of putting on shows, we thought about how to help people get to the venues; we put a lot of effort into thinking about all the barriers autistic people face, and it really paid off.

I don’t think I have ever felt less alone than on that stage, after Lucy Theobald has finished her incredible performance of my words, engaging with everyone who gave me their time and emotions.

One of the Q&As, hosted by poet extraordinaire Kate Fox with me and Lucy Theobald who plays The Duck discussing autism, the arts and more.

But this is not an end, it’s just another beginning! The show must go on! 2020 has us moving on pastures new!

On the 14th and 15th of January we are heading to The Alma Tavern and Theatre for our unmissable opening nights of the tour.

Then we are off to The Spring Arts Centre in Havant, which is so close to my old stomping grounds, I can’t wait to breathe that air again.

In February we finally get to London for the first time, in the brilliant Studio of Greenwich Theatre on the 4th and 5th of February – I am more than a little bit excited about this one, any excuse for a London visit.

And then we are finally making it a bit further North with our performance in The Deli Theatre Sheffield on 7th of March – I love Sheffield so I think this one is going to be really special.

But the journey doesn’t end there. This year we have decided to brave the heady heights of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m not going to pretend that the mere idea doesn’t terrify me – all those crowds, all that relentlessness – but it seems like the right time for The Duck to swim those waters.

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported us so far, it’s the audience response that keeps us going. And an enormous thank you to Lucy Theobald for acting my words with such understanding and to Jo Loyn our director, for moulding those words into a performance.

If you know anyone who might be interested in coming along to see the show (this is very much a show for everyone and not just people with an autistic connection) or in reviewing The Duck, then you can find all the links to future dates on performances or please do get in touch – contact

Playing at Autism

by Rhi Lloyd-Williams

Two years ago, Jo Loyn and I were sitting in my kitchen in Wales, watching the rain tear at the hills in a stereotypically Welsh way, and enjoying a Summery mug of tea, when she asked me if I’d be interested in writing a play for an actor she wanted to work with.

I have to admit that my first thought was a wary one. I’m a poet, not a playwright. I write factual articles about autism, not fanciful theatrical ones. I’m autistic and straightforward, not a flamboyant lovey-darling. But using my autistic hyper-focus, within a week, I had sent her the first copy of The Duck

I was nervous as I drove the five hours out of the mountains and oaks and onto the concrete and tar, on my way to see if a fledgling play could emerge from the paper. I hadn’t met Lucy Theobald before, and for all I knew she could be just awful.

I needn’t have worried. I watched her elegance and poise develop its own tension and movement and she developed her own stims (a way of giving herself pleasant sensory information). There is a physicality to autism, even in those of us who are adept at hiding it. 

I watched Jo pull a performance from the flat pages of my words; playing with form and ideas with such skill and ease, as though they were hidden in the words for her eyes only. I watched Lucy develop the layers of her character under Jo’s direction, and was struck by the similarity with the way I had constructed my own socially acceptable mask. 

I was there to ensure that everyone understood why I would do this or that, why this was confusing and that was easy. I felt heard, I felt understood, but nothing could have prepared me for our very first performance when an autistic woman came to me afterwards and said simply, ‘You put me on stage.’ What critic could ever rival that for a review? What really struck me though, was that it wasn’t just autistic people who were connecting to the character, non-autistic people were too.

One of the things about being autistic and not knowing it, is that you grow up alone. You feel like the whole world is in on a joke that you don’t get. You can learn to laugh along, you can learn to pretend to get the joke, but you never get to feel that uncontrollable surge of glee, and instead of living, you are constantly watching for your cues to laugh. This is probably a terrible analogy to use, since another stereotype of autism is that we have no sense of humour when most of us do. 

Perhaps theatre and comedy are the purest of connections; people sitting together with no eye contact, not touching, but sharing an experience and responding to it as one. We’re not so different, not when you know what goes on behind the scenes.

You can watch The Duck at:-

The Arts at the Old Fire Station, Oxford, on Thursday the 19th of September at 7.30 pm 

The Barbican Theatre, Plymouth, on Saturday the 28th September at 7pm

Blogging The Duck: A glimpse into one autistic woman’s world

You can find out all about our play, The Duck, on our blog, as well as following our playwright, Rhi Lloyd-Williams’ popular website about autism, AutistRhi.com. Where you can find posts such as Ten Things Autism Isn’t and Re-thinking Things Through an Autistic Filter as well as her hugely popular scripted conversations Autscriptic and Autscriptic: Mild Autism.

Lucy Theobald as The Duck 2019

Accessibility

Here at Autact Theatre CIC we really want to make the theatre experience as accessible as possible to everyone. There are so many things that help autistic people that also make life easier for everyone else. We believe that good accessibility isn’t just about getting people through the door, it’s about welcoming people in.

In order to help us do just that, could you please fill out our survey on what would help you enjoy the theatre more.

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/YZ8CC9V

The Duck’s Adventures

After an incredible 2018, where Lucy Theobald claimed the stage as The Duck, Autact Theatre CIC is excited to announce that we shall be swimming forth again in 2019.

This year we are looking forward to heading to Brighton, Oxford, Exeter, Cheltenham as well as many more. Keep an eye on our Productions Page for dates, times and links to where you can find tickets. Do check back regularly for updates, or you can follow us on our Twitter and Facebook Accounts for all the up to date information about performances and more.

You can also catch our playwright, Rhi Lloyd-Williams in her guise as poet, in Oxford as part of the Neither Use Nor Ornament, Arts Council England funded project, in collaboration with the OVADA Gallery this Spring.

Thank you to everyone who has offered support and who has come along to be a part of The Duck. We couldn’t do it without you! Happy 2019!

If you are interested in having The Duck perform at your venue, then please contact autacttheatre@gmail.com for more details

Artistic Autism Awareness

by Rhi Lloyd-Williams @outfoxgloved

 

It’s Autism Awareness Month, a time for everyone to be aware of autism. Is it hiding behind that lamppost? Is it watching from your closet? Will it clasp your leg with a leathery claw from beneath the bed?

 

Probably not. Probably.

 

Autism Awareness is a curious beast, being aware of autism is a bit like being aware that a foreign country exists; you’ve heard of it, you might know a few stereotypes about the people who live there, but beyond that, all most people really know is that it’s a bit… foreign.

 

Autism Awareness can feel like a sensory bombardment of clamouring noise. There are the people who hold up autism by the throat and denounce it as the enemy. There are the people who give it a patronising pat on the head and tell us all how weird autism is, but that it should be accepted anyway. There are a thousand voices crescendoing with Autism Awareness.

 

And somewhere beneath that noise, there’s a voice, or a sign, or a wave of a hand, of autistic people waiting to be listened to.

 

I’d love it if people were a little more aware of that voice. A little more willing to listen. When you’re talking about autism, you’re talking about people with a social processing condition, this doesn’t make us the most persistent social communicators. By definition, you might need to listen a little harder, seek us out, make a point of amplifying those voices.

 

This Autism Awareness Month I would love it if everyone used the time to seek out autistic voices and expression. Find the autistic artists, musicians, poets, read something by an autistic author, find a way to listen to a new perspective and see another angle. Be truly aware of autism and all its twists and turns.

 

Autism awareness doesn’t end on April the 30th, it’s a year-round thing, it’s a lifelong thing, it’s a human thing. If I can tempt you along to hear my voice through another’s lips in June, then I would very much love to see you there.

 

“The Duck” is my first play, it dances around stories and memories to give one angle of autism.

 

You can find where and when it will be performed here

 

 

The Journey Begins

Once upon a time, there was a girl. She was a funny little thing, all snarling lips and snarled curls. She would hide behind familiar legs, and watch the world from afar.

Once upon a time that little girl learned that all the things she knew, all the feelings she felt, the patterns she saw, all the colours and edges, were not real. They could not be real, for other people did not see them, did not touch them, were not connected to them.

Once upon a time, the minutes and the months spread into years, and as her hips broadened, so did her study of humanity, so did her hunt for belonging. As the years passed and the performance became heavy, it became harder and harder to see just how everyone else kept up such a flawless pretence.

Once upon a time, there was a duck, a duck who believed that she was something else entirely, and then a new journey began.

It’s an enigmatic start, but then, it was an enigmatic beginning. Autact Theatre Company began because somebody listened to that little girl’s story, and thought it was worth telling. Stories are powerful things. Perhaps if that little girl had heard a tale of someone just like her, she would have found belonging much sooner, but perhaps is a dangerous road to wander down, so perhaps we shouldn’t.

That little girl was Rhi and thirty years ago sensory and social issues were rarely diagnosed, particularly in girls, due to a lack of awareness. Rhi was, is and always shall be Autistic, and she wears that label with pride. Her diagnosis gave her the tools to work with her neurotype, rather than always trying to bludgeon her way through her difficulties.

This year Rhi’s first play, ‘The Duck’, will be performed, and she warmly invites you to join us. ‘The Duck’ is an uplifting glimpse into what her Autism means to her.

She promises that only her hair will snarl.