Every other week, the editors of American Theatre curate a free-ranging discussion about the lively arts in our Offscript podcast.
On this week’s episode, Rob Weinert-Kendt, Diep Tran, and Allison Considine discuss Tropical Storm Harvey, the theatres affected, and how you can help. Then Diep and Allison get candid about their student loan debt, and the value proposition of an arts degree (spoiler: They’re both pretty jaded).
Then Allison speaks to actor Mickey Rowe, who is the first actor on the autism spectrum to portray the main character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This is notable, considering that the lead character has autism but has historically been played by non-autistic actors. Rowe will play the role in productions at Indiana Repertory Theatre (Sept. 19-Oct. 14) and Syracuse Stage (Oct. 25-Nov. 12). Rowe speaks about how he became an actor, and about why it’s the perfect career for someone on the autism spectrum. Excerpts from the interview are below.
On how well autism and acting go together:
One thing that autistic people do to make our lives a little easier is we just use scripting in our daily lives. So if I go into a coffee shop, I can say, “Can I have a large coffee, please?” And I could ask, “Has it been busy today?” And no matter what the barista responds—“Yeah it’s been busy,” “No it hasn’t”—I can say, “Do you like it better when it’s busy or less busy?” We kinda script conversation that way so it can seem that we’re having a conversation we’re coming up with on the spot, so no matter what the other person responds, we can keep on script. It takes the unknown out of trying to having social interactions with people.
And that’s literally exactly my same job as an actor, where I memorize a script and then after I memorize the script, I have to say the script and make it feel like it’s the first time I’m saying it every time and convince people I’m coming up with these words on the spot, and that they’re my words, happening just specifically because of the interaction we just had or this specific moments.
On why it’s important to have actors with a disability onstage:
I think that young artists and actors with disabilities, it’s just so important for them to see role models who can tell them that if you need special accommodations and if you access the world differently, then the theatre needs you and the world needs you. And that’s something that’s just a missed opportunity, I think, when we have non-disabled people playing disabled roles. Twenty percent of the U.S. population has a disability, according to the 2010 census, and yet the Ruderman Family Foundation did a recent report and found that disability only had a two percent representation rate in the film, TV, theatre that we see. And the worst part of that teeny tiny two percent, 95 percent of those roles are played by non-disabled actors portraying disabled roles. And that leaves—I tried to do the math—it’s like less than .1 percent representation rate for actual disabled actors playing disabled roles.
I think the point of storytelling is to connect us with people who we otherwise wouldn’t come in contact with, and to bring us life experiences that we don’t already have. That’s why diversity matters in the arts. And inclusion in the arts matters because it leads to inclusion in life. So when this is the first time that an actually autistic person has been included in telling a story about autism, all that means is we have a lot of good work still left to be done.
THIS WEEK’S RECOMMENDATIONS
Diep mentions Deferred Action by David Lozana and Lee Trull, from Cara Mia Theatre Company. This timely show about Dreamers, the children of undocumented immigrants who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, is currently touring through Texas and to Los Angeles.
Allison recommends “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix. It may be a depressing look at teen suicide, but it stars a number of notable theatre people, including Brian d’Arcy James and, next season, Kelli O’Hara.
Rob has an in-house recommendation: two stories American Theatre recently ran on the generational turnover of artistic and managing directors jobs currently rippling across U.S. theatres, and why this moment offers a crucial opportunity to diversify theatre’s historically white leadership with qualified women and people of color.