NEWS

Celebrating neurodiversity, making theatre accessible to all

Posted 5/17/22

By EMMA BARTLETT

Six years ago, Clay Martin, 38, founded Spectrum Theatre Ensemble (STE) – an organization whose mission is to evolve the awareness, resources and professionals that empower …

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NEWS

Celebrating neurodiversity, making theatre accessible to all

Posted

By EMMA BARTLETT

Six years ago, Clay Martin, 38, founded Spectrum Theatre Ensemble (STE) – an organization whose mission is to evolve the awareness, resources and professionals that empower the neurodiverse community in achieving equal opportunity and full participation in society. STE’s plays always include a neurodiverse cast, and the ensemble will present “The Importance of Being’’ and “Light Switch” this Friday and Saturday night at Oakland Beach Commons at the seawall.

Martin said “The Importance of Being” and “Light Switch” are part of the company’s Neurodiversity Everywhere tour which kicked off April 22 at the Steel Yard in Providence. This initiative seeks to expand the roles and stories that exist for artists on the spectrum – not just in number but in personality type, age, gender identity, ethnicity and more; the tour features two full-length plays that were developed over the past four years.

The company uses a mobile stage – thanks to The Steel Yard – which allows them to have their own stage and bring theatre to different communities.

“We have a home and can make theatre more accessible to people who lack their own transportation,” said Martin.

Martin is neurodivergent and said he gravitated toward theatre growing up. While he was at Texas Tech University, he developed a group that partnered adults on the spectrum with the university’s dance and theatre programs.

Originally from Austin, Texas, Pawtucket is the 21st city he’s lived in. Once in Rhode Island, STE was developed through the assistance of grants such as the Leadership One-on-One Mentorship Grant from the Theatre Communications Group. Today, when Martin and his company aren’t preparing for shows, STE consults with theatres and institutions around New England and works with them to accommodate people’s sensory needs who are on the spectrum. Making theatre more accessible to those on the spectrum includes providing content/sensory warnings in the play’s program and using lighting to cues so the audience can prepare for the content or sensory thing that is about to come.

“Why make plays on people on the spectrum when they can’t see it?” Martin said.

The company has worked with Trinity Repertory Company and is currently working with the American Repertory theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

During the pandemic, Martin said the company did several table readings over Zoom but decided to focus on writing plays so they would have content at their disposal once they could safely resume performing.

This tour is the first time the group has been back in person.

“I get to be around people I really miss and get to see them continue to thrive like they haven’t missed a beat,” Martin said.

Martin is using a number of locations throughout Providence to use for their performances but will step beyond the state’s capital into next week when they venture to Warwick; Martin hopes for the organization to eventually tour throughout the state and New England.

This upcoming weekend will be the fourth set of performances for the cast members – many of whom are Providence or Massachusetts based.

“The Importance of Being” and “Light Switch” are two hours long; there will be 150 seats available. Both plays start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20. Martin said if someone does not have the funds for the show but wants to see the play, they are welcome and there will be no questions asked. When you buy your ticket, Martin said everyone is asked if they would like to donate $20 to radical hospitality which provides support for those who don’t have the means to pay for their ticket.

For more information on STE and to purchase tickets for the upcoming show, visit stensemble.org/tickets.


The Importance of Being

“The Importance of Being” follows a neurodiverse family through a time of change and growth. As Nile (Brian Harrison) prepares for his wedding and dissertation defense, he is thrust into the responsibility of caregiver for his brother Graham (Daniel Perkins) and sister Whitney (Fallon Sousa), who are both on the autism spectrum. As Nile struggles with his role, his fiancé Cassandra (Daria Montaquila), tries to bridge the growing tensions in a family that are all trying to find their place in the world.

Written by Jeremy Kamps, “The Importance of Being’’ balances its serious nature with comedic relief through Whitney’s humor and stand-up comedy routine. While Sousa portrayed a non-verbal character, her actions and facial expressions helped the audience understand her feelings. Through the clever use of her talk pad to help her communicate with other characters, and wondering what clever joke she’ll come up with next, it’s easy to grow attached to Whitney and root for her to successfully be more independent. Audience members will also find themselves rooting for Graham and his quest of finding love. Whether it’s his moments of bursting out in song or talking about his complicated relationship with his brother Nile, Graham is a genuine, good-hearted character.

The relationships between the characters feel authentic and the acting keeps you engaged throughout the show. Whether Nile and Cassandra are happy or arguing, Harrison and Montaquila effortlessly depict the ups and downs of relationships.

It should be advised that the play’s content includes profanity, homophobia, discrimination against an autistic individual, the R-slur, the mention of suicide and a simulated panic attack. For sensory warnings, there are raised voices/yelling, spotlights, a computerized voice, smoke on stage, the sound of a fire alarm and flashing light.

Cast members include Fallon Sousa, Daniel Perkins, Brian Harrison, Daria Montaquila, Jay Walker, Adam Bram, Adam Almeida, Paula Faber, David Adams Murphey, Dan Kurtz and Bay McCulloch.

“The Importance of Being” will take place at Oakland Beach Commons at the seawall in Warwick at 7 p.m. on May 20. There will be another performance at India Point Park at 7 p.m. on May 27.


Light Switch

Spanning 20 years, “Light Switch” follows the story of Henry (Daniel Perkins), an autistic gay man with a passion for 19th century British literature, and his quest for love and acceptance.

The play starts with fifth grade Henry playing Wuthering Heights with his friend Aaron (Adam Bram). The two start to argue – with Aaron saying he wants to play kickball and Henry suggesting they could play a different game like “Pride and Prejudice” or “Emma.”

Fast forward to the present after college, Henry now finds himself at a summer party where his roommate Roggie (Teddy Lytle) is off hooking up with someone while he is immersed in a book within a stranger’s personal library. Henry then meets Joseph (Brian Harrison) and is soon on his own quest for love.

Henry’s passion for 19th century literature heightens the audience’s enthusiasm for the genre. Brief explanations about the books are worked into the play and give those who haven’t read the books (or seen the film adaptations) enough context to understand the connections or conclusions Henry comes up with. Unlike the rest of the characters, Henry speaks in proper 19th century English.

Roggie will keep you laughing throughout the play – whether it’s his facial expressions or line delivery, his performance is not one to miss.

The play’s set design also embodies Henry’s love for literature, with pages from books making up the backdrop.

There are a number of flashbacks in the play which create context for how Henry got to be the person he is today. Many of the flashbacks take place on two smaller stages that were on the right and left side of the mainstage. This worked well at instinctually letting the audience know that this scene was in a different place and time. Also, by drawing the audience’s attention to a different stage, STE’s crew could set up the main stage or the remaining side stage with props for the next scene.

It should be advised that this play has a lot of adult content and is not suitable for younger audience members. General content warning includes explicit discussion of sex, profanity, simulated kissing, the R-slur and the F-word.

Cast members include Daniel Perkins, Teddy Lytle, Brian Harrison, Karin Trachtenberg and Adam Bram.

“Light Switch” will take place at Oakland Beach Commons at the seawall in Warwick at 7 p.m. on May 21. There will be another performance at India Point Park at 2 p.m. on May 28.

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