What’s the best way to love others when it doesn’t come easily?
Taylor Theatre is exploring this idea through Deanna Jent’s 2011 play “Falling.” In this play, the Martin family’s 18-year-old son Josh suffers from severe autism, and the story follows the lives of the family members as they navigate through their circumstances together.
Jent also shines a spotlight on the ways autism can drastically affect a family and how despite that, they still face the same situations every other family does.
Like many people with autism, Josh is prone to sensory overload, which can be triggered by both emotional and environmental stress. While he isn’t a violent person, when this happens, he can lose control and become a danger to the rest of his family.
“That makes him a threat, even though he doesn't want to be,” said Nate Aeilts (‘16), who plays the role of Josh. “He's a full person who faces challenges that we don't know. Nobody who isn't in that position can understand.”
Aeilts got involved with Taylor Theatre as a student after attending a performance of Playback Theatre. Now, he returns to the stage for this important role.
This isn't Aeilts first exposure to cognitive impairment. In high school, he used to work at a camp for adults with learning disorders. The experience taught him how to see people for more than just one aspect they hold.
“Every single person was a whole person that wasn't their disability,” Aeilts said. “Each person had a personality that was worth knowing.”
Claire Vock, theatre arts freshman, also has experience with people close to her being on the autism spectrum. Her older sister is diagnosed with high-functioning autism. Vock draws from these experiences in her role as Josh’s 16-year-old sister, Lisa.
When describing Lisa, Vock characterizes her as a person who is rebellious and hurting for her own life. She personally sees the role as convicting, but she also notes that the difference between her family and the Martin family is the grace and healing that came from growing up in a Christian home.
Vock doesn’t just see the play as one that touches families affected by autism. She recognizes the message of the play as a bigger picture that affects everyone.
“We talked a lot about as a cast that it's not just about loving people who have a disability, but also loving people that are hard to love,” Vock said.
In preparation for the show, the cast consulted with experts, families affected by autism and each other.
Because of this, talk-backs will be held after every show, which are intended to create a deeper conversation about the show’s themes within the community.
“We're really trying to do in a more explicit way an engagement with the liberal arts broadly and thoughtfully,” said Tracy Manning, director of “Falling.” “If this play on our campus provides an opportunity for our communities to talk together about how to love those who are hard to love and engage with the world around us in this capacity, that's what we want to do.”
“Falling” is being produced for a scholarship funded in honor of Jason Francis, a former Taylor Theatre student who died from colon cancer. These performances are intended to create conversation within the community, and all proceeds fund this scholarship, which is given to an outstanding first year theatre student. Other plays that have been produced for this scholarship include “The Amish Project” in 2018, and “Clybourne Park” in 2017.
“Falling” is showing tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Talk-backs will be held after each show.