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