The art of theatre is about a lot more than just what happens onstage. Ideally, it’s also about creating a community and raising the consciousness of that community, and about, in the words of another favorite director, “telling stories that need to be told.”
Unfortunately, some theatre companies get so busy with the admittedly overwhelming work of putting on shows that they disregard the implicit obligation that comes with being a part of the world offstage. However, the New City Players, an up-and-coming theatre company which has been drawing attention in Fort Lauderdale since 2014, is not one of them.
Some of its community-oriented programming includes its monthly NCP Lab, which provides a platform for artists to share work in development, and City Speaks, which allows attendees to share personal stories in a theatrical atmosphere. In search of adventure, I attended their latest iteration of the Green Room, a monthly gathering for theatre enthusiasts.
Activities included relay races featuring teams named after famous dramatists like August Wilson, Lillian Hellman, and Tennessee Williams. Actor Timothy Mark Davis, literary manager Jessica Schulte, and associate Artistic Director Ryan Maloney also spoke about the company’s upcoming production, Falling, a play by Deanna Jent based on her real-life experience of raising a son on the severe end of the autism spectrum. Thus, we also heard from autism expert Dr. Jennie Trochio and concluded the evening with some empathy-raising theatre games.
I was also in attendance at NCP’s most recent quarterly “Forum,” which they host in conjunction with their productions. These are gatherings “where people from our city witness and engage in civil discourse” and that “aim to create a space where essential issues pertinent to the human condition can be discussed and debated with a spirit of charity.” This month’s forum was on the theme of autism spectrum disorders.
As I mentioned briefly in my intro post, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when I was around 10, so I found it somewhat of a curiosity that my usually disparate identities as a theatre devotee and a person on the spectrum had however briefly intertwined.
The event’s first speakers were Alexai Perez and her daughter Zofia, a young girl with both autism and Down’s Syndrome who expresses herself through her sensory creations. Next up was Cynthia Drucker, who created the Pompano Beach gallery Artists with Autism to showcase and promote the creative work of her son and other talented artists on the spectrum. Then came a Q&A led by Samantha Sweeting Davis and featuring a panel of experts including Dr. Michael Allesandri, Dr. Galen Chun, Ysela Haim, and Rev. Phil Letizia. Ms. Trochio, who had spoken at the Green Room, also returned for the occasion, and spoke memorably about her practice of meeting her autistic students where they are developmentally rather than trying to push them beyond their limits.
The speakers also discussed how inaccessible the theatre itself can be towards people with disabilities and the importance of treating even severely autistic people as fully aware human beings, emphasizing their unique gifts rather than their deficits. They also discussed the horrific unemployment rate among autistic adults and encouraged us to make an effort to seek out entrepreneurs with autism, who often went unrecognized by the mainstream media and the general public despite their evident talents.
Next on the agenda were Boaz Minerva and his son Derek, a non-verbal autistic who, with the help of his parents and a more experienced mechanic, has founded his own bike repair business and is professionally known as “Bike Dr. Derek”. Finally, closing out the evening were Christina Sullivan, creator of inclusive homeschooling center Evolve Learning Community and her son, Austin Sullivan, who is on the more Aspergian end of the autism spectrum and memorably discussed his social anxiety.However, the conversation that NCP is trying to start doesn’t end there. Falling, which opened last night and plays until this October 27, will also feature a nightly “Act 2” consisting of a talkback with actors from the play, autism experts, and community members with a connection to the spectrum. I’ll be weighing back in with my thoughts on the play itself sometime later this weekend!