Unprecedented use of Unprecedented

The word unprecedented has finally found its time. I’ve never heard it used so often and by such an enormous cross-section of the world, from spam emails to government announcements, everything seems to be unprecedented at the moment.

The world has become strange and alien, our routines that seemed so fixed and important have revealed their saggy underbellies. We are breaking new ground and finding that to save the world, sometimes the bravest thing you can do is retreat from it. As an autistic person this is something I have suspected to be the truth for a long time.

Today The Edinburgh Fringe have announced that they will not be going ahead this year. Again, it’s unprecedented, but undoubtedly the right thing to do at the moment. Barnstaple Fringe had already announced their decision to cancel, and with that The Duck is without performance dates until the end of August at the earliest.

I have a habit of being honest, and it’s not one I intend to break anytime soon. When the news came through I met it with mixed emotions; uncertainty is the enemy of peace, not knowing what will happen and when makes most people feel uncomfortable, for those of us who are autistic the effect can be insurmountable. It is a relief to know what to expect now and to know that I can spend this time focusing on family and the truly important things in life – like dancing around the kitchen after a glass of self-isolated wine.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t sadness too. There is no greater belonging than seeing my words connect with people. There is no greater homecoming than feeling understood and seen. When you grow up an undiagnosed autistic person you grow up thinking that you are very alone in how you see the world. Touring The Duck has taught me that I am very far from alone.

As ever I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Lucy Theobald, who has taken the role of The Duck and made it her own. She astonishes me each and every time I watch her perform. She is the embodiment of understanding and demonstrating just how well we can all understand each other. I owe the same debt to Jo Loyn, our director, who took the words on the page and built a whole performance out of nothing. What a skill to see what could be from words on a page.

It may be an enforced break, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace it to its full potential. I hope you are all able to find a path through the next few months. None of it will be easy, but it is the brave thing to do, and after all, these times are unprecedented.

To share The Duck whilst we are under wraps I have recorded an audio reading of The Duck, which you can download by following the instructions on the link below. There is also a Kindle version of my poetry collection available. We may not be able to perform for you in person, but we are still in the world, and we all need those connections to keep going.

Wishing you all much health and happiness,

Rhi

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 out of commission you can still enjoy The Duck from the comfort of your own home. I have recorded and audio reading of The Duck, which may not compare with Lucy Theobald’s beautiful performance, but it a soothing and lyrical way to experience the play. There is also my poetry collection available now on the kindle if you like that sort of thing.

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

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

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