Autism is extremely prevalent in the modern world. Recent studies show that as many as one out of every 68 Americans is on the autism spectrum. Despite the fact that there are so many individuals with autism, many people still do not fully understand autism. While neurotypical people may never understand what an individual diagnosed with autism deals with, Jennings Kelley’s senior project hopes to shine some light on just that.
For her senior thesis project, Kelley is directing the play titled “The Other Room” by Ariana Blayde. “The Other Room” is a short play that was written in 2012 depicting an average day for Austin, a 16 year old with autism who has difficulty engaging in conversations with his peers. Kelley picked this play with the hope of showing just how important it is to get rid of the negative stigma that comes with autism.
“Autistic kids are brilliant,” she said. “Everybody’s minds are different, theirs are just a little more different.”
When asked what she hopes to accomplish with the show, Kelley stated that she would love to address some of the negative assumptions that accompany both theatre and autism. She spoke at length of the good that can come from theatre not only for individuals with autism, but for anybody who is willing to participate. From the games and warm-ups to the camaraderie that comes with performing a play with your peers, theatre does a lot of people a lot of good.
“The Other Room” is a single act play that takes place in a classroom. The main character, Austin, speaks with a popular girl in his grade named Lily, and the two of them find out that they have more in common than either of them could have imagined. The title “The Other Room” comes from the five characters that exist in Austin’s brain that reside in the adjacent room. These characters are not different personalities, but exist to show just how much can go on in the mind of an autistic individual.
The very nature of the play brings a considerable amount of awareness to the struggles an autistic individual finds in society. Namely the struggle of being a young adult with autism. High school is incredibly difficult for neurotypical individuals, so the audience gets a glimpse of just how difficult that experience would be for an person on the autism spectrum. Although the play is free, Kelley is accepting donations that will fittingly go towards autism awareness. This play is Kelley’s first venture that relates both autism and theatre, two subjects that Kelley is very passionate about.
“The Other Room” premieres on Friday, April 15, at 8:00 p.m. in the Flex Theatre in the Clayton Center for the Arts. Be sure to be there and show your support for another MC student while maybe even learning a thing or two about autism as well.