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Play Explores Autism's Impacts On Family; Reading Raises Money For Nonprofit

 January 14, 2021 at 8:13 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 How do you love someone who is difficult to love? That's one of the questions posed by the play falling, which will be performed in a virtual reading this week. It explores the delicate balance is made by a family with an autistic son. And what happens when those balances are up ended, the stream performance of falling by Deanna gent is not just about autism. It's also in support of a San Diego program for kids and teens on the autism. Spectrum me is Gary Cramer, executive director of the San Diego, nonprofit unscripted learning and artistic director of national comedy theater. He's also a performer in the stage greeting of falling and Gary, welcome to the program. Speaker 2: 00:43 Thank you. Thanks for having me. Why Speaker 1: 00:45 Did you choose this play to present to the public about the reality Speaker 2: 00:49 Autism? Well, I had the opportunity of seeing the play performed live a couple of years ago and it just rang very true. It seemed to line up very well with what many of the parents of kids in our program have to deal with, which is what happens when your kid suddenly gets older and how do we deal with them? And what does that do to the structure of the family? It just seemed like a real natural fit. We were looking to do something virtual public facing for the program, uh, as a fundraiser as also to bring awareness to the organization. And it just seemed to line up very well Speaker 1: 01:25 Idea and outline of what the play is about Speaker 2: 01:28 The, um, play centers around a family, with a son who is 18 years old, he has grown as teenagers tend to do. And he's reached the point where based on how he presents, uh, he has become physically dangerous to the family. And it comes to a head on one day when the grandmother comes to visits and she's not completely aware of what the situation is. And what does that do to the fabric of the family? How does each person in the family have a different point of view, uh, as to how to deal with this situation? And you say some of the Speaker 1: 02:03 Families of the kids and teens, you work with struggle with some of the same issues. Speaker 2: 02:07 Yeah, I mean to some degree and most of the kids in our program, uh, don't have quite the physical issues, uh, as the individual in the play does, but it's certainly relatable. And certainly within the autism community, it's well known and you know, what do you do? It's not just, if you're a teen becomes potentially physically dangerous, but as the parents age, if the teen isn't, it has to live with the parents for their whole life, what do we do? How do we face that situation? And that's what the parents in this play are faced with. Do we send a teen to a group home and can a group home love and take care of their child the same way that they can. Speaker 1: 02:46 What about your organization? Unscripted learning and its approach to teaching kids on the autism spectrum? Speaker 2: 02:52 Unscripted learning was founded about three and a half years ago by, uh, myself and Richie plush, who is also a cast member at the national comedy theater. He also happens to be a behavioral analyst and we realized that there was a synergy between improvised theater, which is what we do at the national comedy theater and the way that kids and teens are taught to, uh, enter life, uh, who are on the autism spectrum. I mean, things like making eye contact and reading emotions and expressing your emotions. Clearly, all those things are synergistic between improv training and autism training. They're very, very similar. And we thought, I wonder if there's a way that we can tap into that. And that's how it started. It started with just a brief conversation and the program has grown and now we're running classes. So we've been running classes since 2017 and we teach improvised theater, or we use improvised theater to teach social skills to kids and teens. And it's like a gateway into the learning. So it's not a recreational class, it's more therapeutic, but using the concept of fun and play to teach a social skills. Speaker 1: 04:00 Now, how have you been dealing with the challenge of providing these classes on zoom? Speaker 2: 04:05 Yeah, it was, you know, that's a challenge to everybody, right? And we switched to zoom right away. We almost, within a week of the lockdown happening, we weren't sure if it was going to work or not. And the kids switched over more seamlessly than our teachers did. You know? Uh, they're very good at tech, uh, kids in general. So, you know, we made the classes a little bit shorter. There's certain things you can't do. Of course, on zoom. It's hard to make eye contact on zoom, uh, with a room full of, of individuals, but yet some of the kids actually found it better. There's a lot of social anxiety. And when you're by yourself on your computer, very often, it's a safer place or people feel safer than being in a classroom. So some of the kids actually dove into it, loved it, you know, one or two kids, it didn't work out as well, but for the most part, the transition to zoom has been very good. In fact, we're looking at once, this is all over maintaining some level of zoom workshops, which we could do nationwide, not just in San Diego, Speaker 1: 05:05 Have the outcomes in remote learning been just as good as they were when you had in-person classes. Speaker 2: 05:11 Well, we, we don't do, uh, results-oriented testing, you know, week to week to see, you know, what's happening now, what's happening now. But anecdotally hearing from the parents of the kids and teens in our program, what we have heard is that this has been the thing that they look forward to all week, despite the fact that they're on zoom throughout the week with remote learning with school in general. But this is sort of the time when they can actually have fun and socialize and be with their peers. Um, because so much of remote learning is very strict and rigid and it has to be our program is a little bit looser and it's more socially oriented. So it has gone very, very well. Speaker 1: 05:49 As you've been saying, the national comedy theater is a partner of unscripted learning. People might assume all these are humorous. Is that the case? Speaker 2: 05:59 Uh, no. You know, we, we joke that the, uh, comedy aspect of it is sort of the gateway into the, uh, actual learning part of it. So it's almost, it's not a trick, but it's using the fun nature that comes through improvise theater to actually get to the teaching rather than the other way around. So there's real science behind this. We just use the level of fun and humor to engage the kids quickly. So that being said, the kids are hysterically funny. We've done two actually performances with them over the last couple of years, obviously not this year where they were on stage and they were absolutely brilliant, you know, autism and sense of humor are unrelated. And so a lot of these kids focus on comedy all day, that's their thing. And they are surprisingly funny. They are unfiltered, which is amazing. You know, just someone telling you exactly what they're thinking at the moment. Uh, it's the most honest level of performance you can find. So, yeah, genuinely funny. Uh, but no, it's not a comedy class for people on the autism spectrum. It's a social skills class using improvise theater and comedy as a gateway to it, Speaker 1: 07:12 Play your presenting falling. I know it's a drama, but does it have humorous moments? Speaker 2: 07:18 There was a couple of light, humorous moments in it for the most part. It's, it's a pretty powerful, uh, production. So it's a departure from what the national comedy theater would do. Uh, the NCT is not really involved with it, um, with the exception of, you know, myself straddling those, those two worlds. But, uh, yeah, it's a pretty serious piece that the play runs about an hour. So it's not an overly long, uh, production, uh, but it's, it's kind of a scary time for this family and what are they facing and how do they deal with it and what does it do to a marriage and what does it do to a family? Um, w there's only five people in the production. So it's a, the mother, father, the son, the daughter, and the grandmother, and that's it. And, uh, so it's a pretty serious piece, to be honest, it's not for kids. Speaker 1: 08:04 Tell us exactly what the reading of a play is. Like. It's not just one person reading it, Speaker 2: 08:10 Correct. Yeah. It's almost as if you would see play readings are done very often live in person. And they're usually done with new productions, um, where you'd have all the actors standing in front of a music stand, for example, facing the audience. So the actors still have their scripts. Um, you don't see it on zoom because the scripts are out of view of the, the camera, but it's a slightly informal version, uh, of what an acted out piece would be, if that makes any sense. So we're, we are on script still, but it's zoom was so we're all in separate windows. We're not, we're not at the same place at the same time because of the pandemic. Of course. Speaker 1: 08:51 Now, what would you like the at-home audience to take away from this production? I think what's Speaker 2: 08:56 Important is that people recognize how real the situation is that the issue with autism and what it does to a family is a much bigger deal than a lot of people would think that that is represented on television. That's not just a cute, funny quirk that some people have that these are lifelong issues that families face and the challenges and decisions that they need to make in their lives. It affects their entire life, decades and decades of their life. So it's a serious thing. It's something that can be managed, but it's something that, that is very complex and delicate. And that's really what the place shows the complexities and different points of view on a pretty serious subject. Speaker 1: 09:37 The virtual play reading of falling is available for streaming any time from today through Sunday, full price, tickets support the educational work of unscripted learning and are available through unscripted I've been speaking with Gary Cramer executive director of the San Diego, nonprofit unscripted learning. Gary. Thank you very Speaker 2: 09:58 Much. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

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"Falling," which will be performed in a virtual reading this week, explores the delicate balances made by a family with an autistic son and what happens when those balances are upended.
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