The 2016 Tony Awards opened with an emotional speech by host, James Corden, on behalf of the theater community to speak out about the hateful shooting in Orlando.
“Hate will never win. Together we have to make sure of that.”
I have long admired and adored the theater community—especially the creative forces who write, perform, and direct shows that celebrate and honor the rich diversity of humanity. Through my experience, I have found the theater community to be inclusive and accepting of people who are outside society’s norms, including those on the autism spectrum.
It was the theater world that first had its arms open wide for my son Jonathan.
The first time I realized it was during his first experience at a community theater. I found an audition notice for an upcoming production of Les Miserables. He loved that show and the book too, so I signed him up for an audition. In he goes, with no previous auditioning experience. He had to sing, dance and perform a monologue. Casting notices are posted and he gets cast as “Thenardier!” We were all so excited but when it came time for rehearsals, he was so nervous because he didn’t know anyone. He came home telling me that everyone knows each other because they’ve been doing plays together for years. I told him to just be himself and the cast would see how hard he works and how good he was at the part. Secretly, I was anxious and nervous for him too!
About 3-4 weeks into rehearsals, I walked in right behind him as I was dropping him off. As soon as he walked in the door, I heard a collective cheer, “Jonathan’s here!!” I was so overcome with emotion I had to walk outside to compose myself. Instead of eye-rolling and sighs, here were people who were HAPPY my son was there. Both young and old, surrounded him and I watched for a few minutes to experience the joy of him engaged in conversation and laughter.
I encourage you to explore theater for your autistic children—either watching a show, taking a class or getting involved in production. There have been so many positive outcomes for Jonathan. He found friendship, pride, confidence and, for the first time, saw a path to his future. He learned valuable social skills and the importance of working with a team towards a common goal…putting on a show.
But most of all he found true acceptance and an admiration for who he is—not just “oh there’s that quirky guy,” but “Jonathan’s here!”
The winner of the Tony for the best musical in 2016 was “Hamilton” and the show’s producer, Jeffrey Seller, said this as a part of his acceptance speech:
“Hamilton, an American musical, embodies the best values, the best impulses that make our nation a beacon to the world: inclusiveness, generosity, ingenuity, and the will to work hard to make our dreams come true.”
For me, it’s not just Hamilton but the entire theater community that gave my son a new beginning and the foundation for making his dreams come true. I will forever be grateful for the incredibly inclusive world of theater.
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