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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

ASD in the Room - making friendlier processes for artists with Autism Spectrum Disorder/Aspergers

Griffyn Gilligan - 16 January 2017

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Preface: After an Asperger's diagnosis this past fall, I began to understand better why I have really struggled in auditions and devising/rehearsal processes in the past. Though there is work being done to make shows accessible and have relaxed performances, I haven't seen anyone talking about working better with artists. After an especially bad audition, I put out a call on Twitter to see if anyone wanted to start thinking about creating better rooms and processes for artists with ASD. There was a decent show of interest, so I called this session to see what thoughts people might have and what other questions might be out there.

Thoughts in the room:

- Cold Reads : why do we do them?
They don't test actors' ability or skill, and don't really test flexibility, spontaneity, or ability to process new information. Instead, they are inaccessible and prevent some actors from showing what they can actually do.

-Give as much info as possible beforehand
Before an audition/rehearsal/event, send artists:
-directions to the venue
-clear and accurate description of what will happen during the session
-any materials they may want or need to prepare
-accessibility features of the venue
-a list of who they will be meeting
- a contact for communicating about accessibility needs/answering q's
-description of the room(s) they'll be working in (size, windows, doors, acoustics, light quality, etc.)

- We need true inclusion throughout the process - applications, auditons, tour, backstage, etc. - not just on stage and on paper

- When leaders/directors don't know how to make accessible space, how do ASD artists have that conversation, especially in an audition setting (where requests might make an actor seem “difficult” or “needy”)?

-Agents and producers must take responsibility and be proactive

-Signposting is key!
Even in an improvising process or one using the unknown or surprise, you can name when “we all don't know what's going to happen, and that's ok”.

-Creative Access - access is always an artistic opportunity, never about censorship

-Description can still be exciting. “This is what's about to happen, now watch” can be surprising for audiences and also more accessible

-Whose responsibility is it within a company to ensure the company is beginning from an access policy?

-How to deal with conflicting needs?
Layering is exciting! Maybe not every single thing can be for everyone, but at any point in a process/show, there should be something accessible to everyone

-Great policy from Company Three: “No one walks across the space on their own”

-Can't be just providing; has to be worked into the system of a building functioning

-How can ASD performers work with design teams?
Designers can start introducing elements earlier in a process to see how they work and affect actors
Seeing needs as a challenge/opportunity instead of as a blocking of their idea and getting defensive

-Artists can't always say ahead what will be difficult (same for other access needs and mental health)

-Have a reliable and flexible process for how to handle any mental health/access requirement that arises

-Language of “Instinct”
A language prioritising “instinct” and “intuition” can leave an ASD artist with little place in the conversation, or feeling unable to understand what's being asked of them or what's going on around them. How can we open up this language? How can we encourage valuing the abilities of ASD performers who are just as good as NT (Neurotypical), but rely on a cognitive, conscious encyclopaedia of human behaviour?

-All companies should have a designated support worker who is educated on access and mental health and is Mental Health First Aid trained. This person can liaison with the producer, stage manager, director, and venues, and can handled needs as they arise.

-Funding?
All companies can ask for access lines from ACE before they know who they are going to cast. Access to work funding is also a good source of support. Small and beginning companies can start by making sure their producer is prepared to work with access requests and asking for volunteer help if necessary.

-It's better to try and have to say no then not to ask/try at all

-Listen, listen, listen. Listen to the artists. If there is something you can do in a process, make sure you learn what you need to make it possible the next time


I will be making a couple pieces involving a lot of these questions over the next couple years. Also, We're continuing this conversation on Twitter, over e-mail, and maybe other places, with the aim of making a zine or a guide or something to really urge companies to think more about working with ASD artists. If you'd like to join in, please write to me: griffyn.gilligan@gmail.com or on Twitter @gillidactyl

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