Following our recent workshop of Andy Paris’ new play, “Square Peg Round Hole,” which deals with people living on the autism spectrum, Tectonic Theater Project Executive Director Greg Reiner sat down with Company Member Andy Paris to discuss the play, and the next steps in the development of the work.
Greg: Tell me about your week when you did the workshop, just kind of summarize how that process worked.
Andy: To prepare for the workshop, Anushka Carter, who is co-writing the piece, Sarah Martin, who is designing and myself collected a number of things, props that we felt were related to what we were doing, some portable lighting instruments, and some other elements, and it was very important to have those things in the room from day one. And we also collected some texts that we had been looking at from all the interviews we had been doing and from all the writing we had been doing. So we collected all those things into a room, with some actors, and started doing Moment Work, which is, of course, the process that Tectonic has developed over these may years; a technique for theatrical exploration that stems from ideas, rather than a preexisting story. And it’s a practical workshop, so we’re always working with the text and with the space and with the props to find out what’s resonating most strongly with us.
G: And as you move through the week, doing this process, how does it start to evolve into the Moments that we actually saw presented on Friday?
A: Little glimmers of things, here and there start to occur, and they kind of get picked out of other Moments, and then layered together. What strikes us as powerful, we kind of keep along the way, and we throw the rest away, or store it for the future. So the Moments we end up with at the end of a workshop are usually some sort of layering, or conglomeration, of the little gems that we found during the week.
G: One of the things that I thought was so powerful when we did the presentation on Friday was hearing how many personal stories there were from people who were touched by this in the audience. How does- you know, when we do our process, the audience is so involved in the development of our workshops- how did hearing from them affect your next steps of your own process?
A: It’s inspirational, in the sense that, autism affects so many people, and now that we’ve learned to recognize it, and call it for what it is, everybody is starting to recognize it in their own lives. And autism didn’t just spring up, but rather it’s something that’s always been there, and we just never really knew what it was, and never knew to recognize it. And so now that we do, it’s just inspirational to see how many people this touches, and it really gives us a push to keep going.
G: What surprised you during the week, that you weren’t expecting to find?
A: I’m always surprised and exhilarated by what the actors will bring, because, you know, you collect a bunch of people in a room, they are usually new to the material, and yet they were all so touched by the material, and brought to it so much of their own personal stories, and themselves, and things that they found that they were able to bring into the process, and it gave it a lot of texture.
G: That actress who did the thing with the numbers- is she… actually autistic herself? How did she DO that? That was crazy!
A: Yeah, well, she is a really good actress. That thing that she does, with balancing the numbers, that’s something that she’s always just done. She’s always had-
G: Was that something that she brought in, or was that something that…?
A: She brought in that process of balancing the numbers of addresses. A lot of people play with numbers in certain ways, a lot of people don’t even realize it. But the interesting thing about that moment, and the way that it developed throughout the week, and she played it so well, is that just playing with numbers is not necessarily an autistic trait, but there was that point where she got stuck, where she couldn’t balance the numbers of the address, and it started to bother her. And even though that can bother anybody, there’s a line she crossed in her reaction to being stuck where as an audience member you can recognize, wow, that’s not a typical reaction that someone would have to being stuck because they can’t balance numbers, she’s starting to move in a very unnatural manner, she’s starting to rock, she’s raking her arms with her fingernails, and all of these mannerisms transformed into an autistic meltdown. One of the things we were playing with, and one of the things that moment evoked so strongly was that, yes, these are all human traits that we’re talking about, traits that every human being possesses, but they’re found in such clusters, and emphasized in a certain way, that it manifests as atypical behavior. So she crossed that line and it was interesting to sense the change of temperature in the room when people felt her cross that line.
G: What’s next?
A: We learned a lot from our first workshop. I think we gained a lot of momentum, in finally getting in the room and working with this material, and so we’re hoping to carry that momentum further. We have a really strong idea of some things that are working, and we want to exploit those things, and there are thing that we weren’t able to touch on, that we want to get to, so we’re still gathering some more research and we’re also going over what we learned, and we’re going to do more interviews, do more reading, talk to some more people, and keep progressing until we get to our next workshop.
G: Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you were hoping I would?
A: The only thing I will add, is that because of the nature of autism, and because the nature of autistics, who tend toward a lot of engineering and technology, we want that to become a really big part of the show and that was something that we weren’t able to employ in the first workshop. And so one of the things we are really hoping to do between now and the next workshop is figure out how to gain our own technical experience and engineering experience and knowledge, and try to exploit that in a theatrical way.