Fancy a bit of ableism? I know you mean well but…

February 2, 2019 § 4 Comments

Yes – it’s happening again. Well-meaning cookie-cutter ableism is at the heart of a theatrical production in the UK once more.

We’ve been here before quite recently with Kibo Productions The big Things, in 2018; non-autistics writing plays with autistic characters determining the action, their autism and their characterisations being ‘othered’ right down to the marketing.

For All in a Row the autistic character is played by a puppet, and the marketing features an image of a row of three yellow fondant fancies with a single upended blue fancy to signify autism. It is immediately apparent that despite its focus on a minority group this production has failed to consider the need for sensitivity consultation.

You have to wonder if in the UK in 2019 this would happen in the case of any other minority group. The problem here is that the adult autistic community is not considered where portrayals of autistic children (or indeed adults) are concerned.

In both cases we’ve heard online from the playwrights about their genuine credentials for writing on this subject – the close friends, the years spent caring on the front line, the meticulous research, and consultation with the National Autistic Society (NAS) – perhaps flirting with the suggestion of an endorsement.

Yesterday on Twitter the author did respond to Tweets by @krystinanellis, some of which I think have since been taken down, but Alex Oates seemed to suggest that the character could not be played by an actor because it was so ‘individual’. Alex consulted parents, they loved the puppet idea, puppets make terrific theatre, et voila!

I’m torn between the puppet device and the blue ‘tits up’ jaunty fondant fancy as to which I find most offensive and frankly ‘othering’.

The play promises to be ‘startling’. It already is. The author promises a video explaining the thought processes behind the puppet idea. I heart the Tweet reply from @g_ting

Once a production gets this far those involved invariably dig in. They have no other option. Obviously with hindsight they should have considered community and avoided such a horrible blunder. Yet again we face the painful truth that adult autistics are not ‘in the room’ yet. We remain invisible until we speak out, which is why I’m spending my Saturday morning writing this post.

It’s really very simple. Creating an autistic character that can’t be portrayed by a person, where all other characters are played by people, is dehumanising. Using dated and clumsy marketing, especially using the colour blue (which is associated with problematic Autism Speaks imagery and campaigns) signals ignorance and stumbles unwittingly into the territory of ableist propaganda.

I wish I had time to write a more eloquent post. I wish I had time to mount a campaign, but I’m too busy trying to work constructively for my community to take this on.

I hope that by speaking out I can join the conversation and inspire others to form a plan.

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§ 4 Responses to Fancy a bit of ableism? I know you mean well but…

  • chavisory says:

    “The character in this play is so individual that to ask someone else to play it seemed wrong.”

    Okay, so, one, the autistic character is a “him,” not an “it.”

    Two…Every character in a play is individual. If they’re not, I don’t wanna watch the play. I’m not interested. And yet we ask “someone else,” usually a professional actor, to play those people all the time. We understand that they are *not* actually those characters because theater is art.

    This sounds a whole lot like an excuse for “I don’t understand at all how to build an autistic character and I didn’t care to take the time to figure it out.” Or “I know my writing of this character is so bad I don’t want to have to ask a human to play the role.”

    Liked by 5 people

  • Heather Jeffery says:

    Thanks Sonia, It is thought provoking. I am interested in the subject of how theatre could be more on point and also what kind of changes the theatres themselves could make. Your comments certainly help to raise awareness

    Liked by 1 person

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