#fringebuzz with Christine Rodriguez of The Autism Monologues

questions by Caleigh Crow

On your website, you describe this play as a “natural progression” from your previous show Dreaming in Autism. Can you tell me more about that you wanted to do differently with The Autism Monologues and what the common threads are between the two shows?

My goal with The Autism Monologues is to present a diversity of experiences related to autism rather than to focus solely on my own personal experience with my son like I did in my solo show Dreaming in Autism. In the Autism Monologues, there are a dozens of characters, each relating their own experience whether they are autistic, the relative of an autistic person or someone in the community who deals with autistic people in different capacities. While each story is unique, the common thread between both shows is the sense of urgency which parents experience in trying to do the best for their children, whether they are still young or have become adults. Also, the sense of alienation that was present in Dreaming in Autism and the desire to connect with other people are very strong in this show. From a costume design perspective, Nalo Soyini Bruce did something very interesting. She continued with the same shades that were used in the mother’s costume in Dreaming in Autism for the costumes in The Autism Monologues to reflect the evolution from one show to another.

Why is this subject matter important to you?

I have a son on the autism spectrum. I first wanted to speak out about my situation, the isolation, the lack of support, the frustration and the love for a child. But I see that there’s still a lack of understanding and inclusion in our society, so I felt I needed to further the conversation. Not enough people saw Dreaming in Autism. I want to reach more people about this issue which is increasingly prevalent in our society and which isn’t going away. Theatre, for me, is a great way to spread the word.

Where does this play fit in with your other work in theatre?

As a mixed-race person, I tend to obsess a lot about questions of identity and where I fit in. All of my plays explore that desire to fit in and what happens when you do or when you don’t. I explore how different characters deal with that issue. The Arrangement was about women with different lifestyles and how they struggle to maintain their circle of friends in light of their differences. In Dreaming in Autism, the mother is fighting for her son to be accepted in school and in society. I’m currently working on another play, Simone, Half and Half, that also deals with identity focusing on a mixed-race girl who is trying to figure out who she is and where she fits in.

What gets you most excited about this play?

So many things get me excited about this play. I’m thrilled about the concept director Jen Viens and set and costume designer Nalo Soyini Bruce came up with. It’s way beyond what I envisioned as the playwright. It’s amazing to see the play grow to the point that it has. Rob Denton also created an intriguing soundscape. I’m excited about the diverse cast – everyone is so different in temperament and approach to their work. It’s surreal to see the characters come to life the way they have. And it’s so comforting to be working with Isabel Faia again. She’s a great calming influence for me. She helps me a lot from a production point of view so I can focus on my performance as I am also one of the cast members. I’m relieved to be sharing the stage with four other people and sharing the emotional burden this time. Dreaming in Autism was a one-woman roller coaster of a show. It felt very lonely at times.

What are you hoping the audience will take away from this play? What experience do you have in store for them?

I hope the audience will walk away with greater understanding for families dealing with autism. I hope people will come away with more compassion for autistic people. I want people to see autistic people as individuals rather than a stereotype. I mean we need to get passed our antiquated notions of what is normal and open up our minds to including in our communities people who do or see things differently. I want less judgement. I guess it gets very personal for me. In so many ways. These are ideas that we can apply to a broad range of people who are marginalized in our society. But I don’t spell it out for people watching the show. They will have to come away with their own impressions as the show is a window into other people’s lives and other people’s imaginations. It’s a journey of discovery. The characters are searching for answers that may not exist and that’s ok. Just accepting without knowing the answers to everything is ok and even essential sometimes.
What have you learned about yourself as an artist during this process? What were the challenges and successes of this process? What artistic goals did you accomplish and what kind of growth did you experience?
As with every independent theatre project, it begins with an idea for a play. In this case I had a concept I wasn’t sure I could pull off, that of telling different stories with each new monologue. I’d hoped to make it a bilingual play but after forcing it for a while, I realized it wasn’t going to work. I reworked each monologue in different ways, did a lot of cutting, eliminated some characters, added new ones, changed the sequence of the monologues several times. I think we arrived at something good. I don’t know how the audience will receive it… Add to that the director’s vision, the design elements that go way beyond anything I ever imagined and the unique interpretations of each actor… If you had told me, “This is where you will be June 7th,” I would have replied, “We’ll never be able to get there!” But the process evolved as it could, as it should. I’ve never pulled together such a big team before. So I guess the biggest growth I experienced was to be patient with the evolution of the play and trust in the journey of the production process; trust in the artists. Isn’t that the essence of theatre? A group of people with all kinds of perspectives gets together on day one and by opening night something entirely new and unique is ready for the audience to take in. It’s magical and awe-inspiring. And being part of the Fringe, I really can’t wait to see and to celebrate what other people created as well.

See The Autism Monologues at Studio Jean Valcourt du Conservatoire from June 7 – 17 at the St Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival. To purchase tickets, click here. For all our QDF #FRINGEBUZZ articles, click here.