There’s a common misconception that people who are on the autism spectrum, or have developmental disabilities, are incapable of empathy or love.
“That’s categorically untrue,” says Aubrie Therrien, the founder and artistic director of EPIC Players, a neurodiverse theater company based in Fort Greene.
Therrien started EPIC Players five years ago with the view to give people with autism and other developmental disabilities a chance to shine on the stage and elevate them to a professional level.
This winter, the company is presenting Almost, Maine, a romantic-comedy by John Cariani about hope, love and connection.
Therrien says the production blows the misconception about developmental disabilities and relationships out of the water.
“Our play really puts that at the center and is asking these artists to experience the very complicated dynamics of relationships.”
While the play has never been produced with a neurodiverse cast before, the EPIC Players production features both neurodiverse and neurotypical actors.
“Neurodiversity” is a term coined by Judy Singer, a sociologist who has autism, and reframes certain developmental conditions such as autism as normal variations in the brain.
EPIC Players is not a drama therapy organization, but a professional theater company, Therrien says. Many of EPIC’s players go on to book commercials, plays and singing gigs.
“Most individuals with developmental disabilities are unemployed, and if they are employed it’s in labor jobs, janitorial jobs, when really they might be born to sign and dance, but they were never given that access.”
Therrien recalls one actor who played the young prince in The Tempest about four years ago. An off-Broadway producer was in the audience one night, spotted the actor and asked if they would like to audition for an off-Broadway production.
With EPIC as his advocate, the actor was cast in the play. “Then he got an agent, and this all happened in the span of six months,” Therrien laughs. “We’re really proud of that.”
Another actress in the theater company, who has a visual impairment, was also recently cast in the television series See. “That’s what we want, we want people to get work,” Therrien says.
Over the past five years, the theater company has grown exponentially. While EPIC started out with about 20 players, it has grown over the past year to 81 players, and EPIC just auditioned 20 more people.
Therrien says many of the actors find out about the company by coming to the show.
When they see a great show, and see the actors are treated professionally and get paid, they get interested, Therrien says.
All EPIC performances are also inclusive for audiences: providing wheelchair seating, assisted listening devices, sensory guides, quiet zones and a relaxed atmosphere where patrons with developmental disabilities are able to talk and vocalize as they wish, as well as leave and re-enter the seating area as needed.
To book a ticket to Almost, Maine, click here.
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