Tag Archives: autistic

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Final Bow and Closing Party for Acclaimed ‘On the Spectrum’ at the Fountain Theatre

The final bow.

The final bow for ‘On the Spectrum’ at the Fountain Theatre.

The final bow for our acclaimed West Coast Premiere of On the Spectrum finally came last Sunday, April 28th, ending a wonderful run of rave reviews and enchanted audiences. Critics and theatergoers were swept away by the heartfelt vulnerability of the script by Ken LaZebnik, the vision and storytelling of the direction by Jacqueline Schultz, the honest passion of the cast (Jeanie Hackett, Virginia Newcomb, Dan Shaked) and the magic of the design team (set – John Iacovelli, lights – Christopher Stokes, video – Jeff Teeter, sound – Peter Bayne, costumes – Naila Alladin-Sanders, props – Misty Carlisle).

A Fountain shout-out to our fabulous production crew: Production Stage Manager – Corey Womack, Assistant Stage Manager – Terri Roberts, Board Operator Jennifer Seifert, House Manager – Jessica Turner, Tech Director – Scott Tuomey).

Our thanks to The Help Group for their support of this production. On the Spectrum was a deeply rewarding run that opened a window for many of us, allowing us to peer into a world we may not otherwise see.

A post-show closing party was held after the final matinee performance last Sunday. Enjoy some snapshots!   

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True Love Story of Real Couple ‘On the Spectrum’

Living and Loving with Autism

Our acclaimed West Coast Premiere of Ken LaZebnik’s On the Spectrum chronicles the blossoming love story between Mac and Iris, two young people with autism. Meet real-life couple David and Lindsey. They, too, haven’t let their autism get in the way of falling in love.

By Thea Trachtenberg and Lindsay Goldwert
David Hamrick, 29, and Lindsey Nebeker, 27, look like a typical couple in love, but what’s not apparent is how hard they’ve worked to be together.

Hamrick and Nebeker live together in a Jackson, Miss., apartment, yet they have separate bedrooms, eat meals apart and spend most of their time focused on their own interests.

This unusual setup is how Hamrick and Nebeker, who are both autistic, make their relationship work.

About 1.5 million people in the United States have autism, with varying degrees of severity. Many people with autism struggle with the most basic social interactions, so finding love may seem like an impossibility.

Hamrick and Nebeker are high-functioning but, since childhood, both have found it difficult to make friends and even harder to keep them.

“All of her socialization had to be learned, usually by hard experience,” said Nebeker’s father, Gordon Nebeker.

Autistic people can also be hypersensitive to touch and sound. Hamrick can’t stand when the room is too warm and cringes at certain sounds; Nebeker can’t take florescent lights; and both are profoundly uncomfortable with small talk.

Lindsey Nebeker and David Hamrick

Lindsey Nebeker and David Hamrick

Learning to Interact with Autism

Despite their difficulties, they both kept trying to reach out and connect with others. Nebeker learned to make friends by reading Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Hamrick had tried to untangle the rules of dating by reading self-help books.

“No one teaches you to flirt,” said Diane Twactman-Cullen, editor in chief of Autism Spectrum Quarterly. “Individuals with autism would really be at a loss. So there might be some missed signals.”

When Hamrick and Nebeker met in 2005 at an autism conference, Hamrick was smitten.

“I pretty much liked everything about her,” he said. “She was very sweet, easy to talk to, and a good listener.”

But Nebeker was unsure.

“In my early 20s, I had decided I was no longer going to seek a relationship,” she said. “I was mainly going to focus on my career and my friends that I had been able to make and keep.”

They became friends. Then one day when they were at a café, Hamrick knew he was making progress when he put his hand on hers.

“My heart was racing,” Hamrick said. “I was fearful it might not work out the way I had anticipated, but the fact that she didn’t pull back and she was able to hold my hand there for at least five minutes, I was very touched by that.”

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked

Mac (Dan Shaked) and Iris (Virginia Newcomb) in ‘On the Spectrum’

Living Together With Separate Needs

After two years of dating, they took the huge step of moving in together, despite their unique and separate needs.

Nebeker admits that it seems highly unusual for a typical couple to agree to separate bedrooms.

“We both understood the importance of an individual with autism needing their own space,” she said.

When they are in their apartment, they are rarely together. Hamrick, a meteorologist, is often in his room on the computer or absorbed in the Weather Channel while Nebeker, a musician, can get lost for hours playing the piano and working on her music.

A romantic dinner for two presents major challenges.

“There are a number of sounds that are unpleasant to me,” Hamrick explained. “Such as chewing sounds and crunching sounds.”

And Nebeker has many complicated eating rituals. Her napkin has to be placed just so and her meals prepared in just the right way.

“Sometimes Dave will spontaneously ask, ‘Hey, you want to go out for dinner tonight?’ And I break into sobs and I say, ‘I am so sorry, I just can’t. I just can’t,'” Nebeker said.

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked in ‘On the Spectrum’.

The couple’s parents have seen their children struggle with their disorder and are in awe of the way the two care for each other and express their love and devotion.

“Being high functioning is almost more difficult than being low functioning,” said Gordon Nebeker. “You are so close to there, and yet not quite — and that is heartbreaking.”

But for all the compromises, the couple’s love story is actually a pretty traditional one, one of deep understanding and acceptance.

“When I have had a bad day at work or just a bad day for some other reason — and I come home, I don’t even have to say anything, he senses it. Dave will come up to me and start cuddling up to me and that’s really all I need,” Nebeker said. “I know that I am with a partner who is not going to judge me for certain eccentricities I have.”

On the Spectrum at the Fountain Theatre

On the Spectrum Now to April 28  (323) 663-1525  MORE

This production is sponsored, in part, by The Help Group.

Fountain Spotlight: Virginia Newcomb is “Astounding” in ‘On the Spectrum’

Virginia Newcomb

Virginia Newcomb

When you see On The Spectrum at the Fountain Theatre you not only get a funny and touching glimpse into a unique world rarely seen. You also witness a truly one-of-a-kind performance. The three actors in On The SpectrumJeanie Hackett, Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked — have all deservedly earned rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.  Newcomb’s portrayal of Iris, the young woman with lower-functioning autism and acute physical and neurological challenges yet blessed with a deep and richly imaginative  inner life, is extraordinary.  Critics have hailed her performance as “astounding”, “wondrous” and “breathtaking”.

The challenges of the role are enormous. In addition to her non-stop physical ticks, twitches, movement and behavior,  Iris struggles with speech and  painfully wrestles with forming words and sentences. She communicates online and unseen via the written text of her blog and website  (“The Other World”).  When forced to converse in person with another human being, she types her  thoughts into a hand-held Proloquo computer device which, in turn, “speaks” for her in a computerized voice.

Iris e-chats from "The Other World" with Mac.

Iris e-chats from “The Other World” with Mac.

This means 80% of Virginia’s live performance is achieved in tandem with Iris’s recorded voice (also done by Newcomb). For the actress, it requires tremendous focus, concentration and non-stop physical commitment to the role for the full 90 minutes of the play. Audiences watching her performance have no idea how hard it is (nor should they). But all agree it is vivid, powerful, funny, deeply moving and utterly unforgettable.

How does she do it?       

Before auditioning, what was your impression when you first learned about the play? The role of Iris? Any preconceptions?

My initial response was pretty visceral.  The general themes appealed to me immediately; love, courage, fear, humanity. I think I’ve said to several people some variation of, “This is one of those roles that will make me better at what I do.”  Not to mention, having worked with The Fountain before, I trusted they would do the story justice. 

How did you prepare for the audition?

I knew this was a role that would take quite a bit of research to do it justice.  Given the nature of auditions, it was impossible to bring in all of that in just a couple days.  So, I focused on those initial emotional reactions to the piece.  I did some research online and found a few mannerisms that I felt would heighten my believability.  Mostly, I allowed myself the freedom to express my own quirks, imagination, and fears.  I think those discoveries remain the root of this character. 

How did you feel when you learned you got the role? 

Thrilled and terrified.  It was kind of a moment of, “Oh, okay, I guess this is really happening.”  That’s a funny dichotomy; feeling confidence and doubt simultaneously.    

Iris is such a unique, challenging and demanding role — both physically and mentally. How did you prepare for it? 

I really held on to those initial feelings.  I believe if something makes you feel so strongly,  so quickly, ultimately that will be the key to the character.  Before this, I didn’t have any personal experiences with Autism. But there’s a very rare disease in my family called DRPLA that certainly impacted my choices.  It is very different, but there are physical manifestations that I was able to draw from.  It also informed my understanding of the difference between one’s physical existence and mental acuteness.  Our director, Jacqueline Schultz, was able to arrange time for us to observe at The Help Group, one of the premiere schools for students with special needs.  Perhaps my most valuable experience was attending their high school Valentine’s Day dance.   Dan Shaked and I both remarked on feeling this sense of freedom and non-judgment in the room.  Not to belittle the challenges they face, but I have certainly come to appreciate the perspective of those “on the spectrum”.    Beyond that, I spent a lot of time looking at videos (of which I was surprised to find quite a few).  Autistic activism is a very present community.  It was not difficult to engross myself in that world.  I’ve found other inspiration in studying birds, wild horses, and all the fantastical imagery already written into the play. 

Iris 1

Much of Iris is recorded in Voice Over. What is that experience like, as an actress? Connecting your physical life with the recorded Voice Over track?  

At first, it was a little like rehearsing different characters.  We had rehearsals where I worked on the voice then our stage manager, Corey, would do the lines and sometimes even Jacqueline, then we recorded a temporary track  so I could really focus on the physical life.  We wanted to fully explore the character before committing to one version of the recording.  Iris’s idealistic voice is the voice most like me and the one that really shows us her intelligence.  So, it was important that it was fully explored.  Our sound designer, Peter Bayne, has also done a really great job at maintaining a since of intimacy.  We put it all together during tech week.  It’s become a bit of a dance between me, Corey, and Iris — never being sure who exactly is leading.     

Displaying battle bruises with pride.

Displaying battle bruises with pride.

The physical demands of the role must take a toll. Are you exhausted after every performance? 

When we started putting all the elements together (the physical, mental, and emotional life and then technically; video, VO, audience) I went through an adjustment period.  After our first previews I was a sore, sweaty, dehydrated, and an emotional mess.  My body wasn’t quite sure what the hell I was doing to it.  I’ve since found some sort of balance.  Some nights I still leave feeling a little beaten up, but it’s something to be proud of.  This is my marathon or battle. 

Do you have any favorite moments in the play? As an actress?

It’s been important for me that Iris not be portrayed as a victim.  She certainly has many moments of vulnerability, but my favorite moments are when she’s able to assert herself.  She has moments of true heroism in this play and those are my favorite to play. 

What kind of response are you getting from anyone in the Autism community after seeing you on stage? 

The most validating responses have been from those who have personal experiences with Autism.  I’ve had several people tell me I’m doing it justice; that it’s believable and that’s really what it all comes down to.  People are very touched by the story and the characters.  So, I’m just thrilled that it resonates. 

What was/is your greatest fear in doing the role?

When playing a character with any kind of ‘disability’ you want it to be believable.  The Autism spectrum is so broad that it gave me the freedom to really create something unique for Iris, but also made it difficult to find specific examples of someone like her.  I’ve just had to trust my director and all other aspects of the collaboration.  I know that it can be uncomfortable for some audience members, but I try to keep it honest.  My mother sent me a beautiful letter, “Don’t be afraid of making anyone uncomfortable.  Maybe through Iris you’re teaching them to accept someone different in a way they hadn’t thought of before.”  It feels like a big responsibility, but that’s the beautiful thing that art can do for humanity.

What part of Iris do you most identify or empathize with? Is there any part of her character that you personally connect most deeply to?

Her imagination.  I was a very shy introverted child.  I would fanaticize and draw a lot.  Along the way, I began to intuit that a more public form of expression was my journey.  It wasn’t easy for me at first, still sometimes isn’t really, but it’s my hero’s quest.  Iris’s journey into the real world is not all that different from mine.  We just have different limitations.  It’s kind of my thing to recognize that which scares me the most and run right through it.  All of my best qualities are formed out of those moments.  

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked

You and Dan Shaked have a nice chemistry on stage together. With Mac and Iris both having communication issues — how did you and Dan find ways to connect as actors?

Dan is really fantastic.  There was no trust barrier to get over; it was just so immediately comfortable. We are each other’s spring board for any frustrations we might be having about the characters.  Both of our characters have some juxtaposing characteristics and that can be confusing.  It helps to have someone trying to break the code along with you.   Having so little eye contact with someone you’re supposed to fall in love with can be difficult, but there are so many other ways to connect that it actually heightens the experience.  We have to really pay attention and feel the other’s presence by smell, sound, touch, etc.  It’s really fun.  He and I both love the little differences that happen night to night, too.  Sometime the VO speaker goes out, sometimes his headphones break, sometimes M&M’s are going everywhere, but it’s comforting knowing your partner and you can handle it. 

What was the process with Jacqueline Schultz as a director?

Jacqueline came to the table with such passion and knowledge.  A true artist, she knew how to lay the ground for us to freely create. She really let me run with Iris.  I never heard her say pull back.  If anything she’d say, “Great, okay now more of that.”  She helped push me through any fears I had.  I’m very grateful to her for helping me find Iris.

Virginia's dressing table back stage.

Virginia’s dressing table back stage.

This is your second Fountain production. Do you enjoy working at the Fountain? How does it compare to other theaters in LA?

The Fountain is so good at what they do.  It’s a big part of why I chose to do this play.  I was already familiar with how the team at The Fountain could elevate a production.  I was confident they’d bring Ken LaZebnik’s beautiful story to life.  They are no question one of the best intimate theatres in LA.  It’s a family and you really feel a part of it when you’re working here. 

Do you think the character of Iris will “stay with you” for a while, after the run ends? 

Well, she’s certainly welcome to.  I’ve adored playing Iris.  She is my courage and fear personified. 

Virginia ghost image

What are your plans after SPECTRUM closes?

Take a break, if the universe lets me.  I’ve been going non-stop for a while.  I shot three films last year and then the play.   I have plans to head back South for a bit.    I haven’t seen my family in over a year.  It’ll be nice.  Then? We’ll see.  

On The Spectrum Now to April 28 (323) 663-1525  MORE

This production is sponsored, in part, by The Help Group.


NEW VIDEO! ‘On the Spectrum’ is a “brilliant, flawless masterpiece” at the Fountain Theatre

New Video Trailer and Rave Reviews for Funny and Touching Love Story with a Difference

This production is sponsored, in part, by The Help Group.

On the Spectrum  Now to April 28  (323) 663-1525  MORE

‘On the Spectrum’: A Love Story with a Difference

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked

Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked

“As with all great love stories, there are obstacles,” says Jacqueline Schultz, director of the West Coast premiere of Ken LaZebnik‘s play “On the Spectrum,” now playing to terrific reviews at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. Quirky and unexpected, “On the Spectrum’ is a love story with a difference; in LaZebnik’s award-winning play, an online e-chat blossoms into a  courtship between two young people with autism. “Ken’s play is original, charming and moving.”

Jacqueline Schultz

Jacqueline Schultz

Schultz is an award-winning actress and a theater director at The Help Group’s Summit View School for students with learning differences. The Help Group is the largest and most innovative nonprofit of its kind in the U.S. serving children with autism, learning differences and other special needs. She was immediately drawn to the project. “Theater is about all of those things that help children learn,” says Schultz. “The art form has a special way of helping autistic children learn because it helps kids discover how to act together with others.”

In LaZebnik’s play, Mac has Asperger’s, and Iris is autistic. Many people on the autism spectrum take pride in their distinctive abilities and “atypical” ways of viewing the world. Mac (Dan Shaked), whose mother Elizabeth (Jeanie Hackett) provided years of mainstreaming and therapy, passes as “typical.” He connects online with Iris (Virginia Newcomb), an activist who proudly champions her autism as a difference, not a disorder. A relationship quickly forms between the two.

“The play demonstrates how technology has allowed the characters to communicate what’s inside, rather than be judged on the outside,” says Schultz.

Dan Shaked & Jeanie Hackett

Dan Shaked and Jeanie Hackett

“Part of the love story is a mother’s love for her son,” says LaZebnik. “His mother has been his guardian and shield, his whole life. The potential of him going off with this girl obviously is hard for her, and it’s hard for him to contemplate leaving her.”

“Iris has an opinion. Elizabeth has an opinion. Mac bridges both of those worlds,” says Schultz. “Ken does a great a job of breaking down the myths about autism and autistic people. They can feel. They can fall in love. They can get actively involved in their own community.”

“I would love it,” LaZebnik says, “if people saw these characters as just two unique human beings who fall in love.”

Ken LaZebnik

Ken LaZebnik

Winner of a 2012 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award citation and a 2011 Edgerton Foundation New American Play award, “On the Spectrum” was commissioned by Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, where artistic director Jack Reuler directed the premiere as part of the Center of the Margins Festival. Ken LaZebnik has written two other plays about autism: Vestibular Sense, which also premiered at Mixed Blood, was honored with an award from the American Theatre Critic’s Association at the Humana Festival in Louisville; and Theory of Mind, commissioned for young audiences by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, has also been produced in Minnesota, Hawaii and Michigan, and was published by Dramatic Publishing.

Schultz has worked as a theater director/educator with learning disabled students for over 12 years. As a professional actress, she was recently seen at the Fountain in the U.S. premiere of Athol Fugard’s “The Blue Iris.”

Ken LaZebnik’s “On the Spectrum” is earning wonderful reviews and is currently running at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles through April 28.

Reposted  from  The Imitated Life.

On the Spectrum Now to April 28 (323) 663-1525  MORE

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Opening Night Party for ‘On the Spectrum’ at the Fountain Theatre

Fountain frontLast night was the gala Opening Night for our West Coast Premiere of On the Spectrum by Ken LaZebnik, directed by Jacqueline Schultz. The sold out packed house was filled with press, friends, subscribers, and enthusiastic audience members. Response to the play and production was very strong and positive, with lots of excited buzz and chatter after the performance.

Among those enjoying the Opening Night performance and after-party were Barbara Firestone, President and CEO of The Help Group,  Rita Berens, playwright Ken LaZebnik and his wife Kate Fuglei, director Jacqueline Schultz, Los Angeles set designer Tom Buderwitz, as well as members of the On the Spectrum design and production team.   

On the Spectrum is a funny, touching and powerful love story between two young people with autism, starring Jeanie Hackett, Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked. The production is sponsored, in part, by The Help Group

The performance was followed by a catered reception in the Fountain’s upstairs cafe. Enjoy some photos!  

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On the Spectrum Now Playing to April 28 (323) 663-1525  MORE

Finding Love ‘On the Spectrum’

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked

Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked

by Steven Sabel

“It’s all a very personal saga for me,” says playwright Ken LaZebnik.

He’s speaking about his play On The Spectrum. It was commissioned by Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, where artistic director Jack Reuler directed the 2011 premiere as part of the Center of the Margins Festival. Then it tied for second place in last year’s competition for the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award.

On the Spectrum is LaZebnik’s third dramatic work dealing with issues surrounding autism, and his passion for the subject derives from his personal connection to the disorder.

Ken LaZebnik

Ken LaZebnik

Having two nephews and a niece diagnosed with autism has opened his eyes to autism in a way that provides a firsthand perspective on those who fall “on the spectrum,” he says.

Jacqueline Schultz calls it a perfect fit for her. She’s directing a production of LaZebnik’s play for the Fountain Theatre, opening Saturday. The award-winning actress and director has also worked for more than 12 years as a theater director and educator with special needs students.

“Theater is about all of those things that help children learn,” says Schultz. The art form has a special way of helping autistic children learn because it “helps kids discover how to act together with others,” she says.

The overriding theme of the play can be found in the term from which LaZebnik selected his title. People who exhibit a range of behaviors associated with autism and Asperger’s syndrome are said to be “on the spectrum.” Schultz says it is a vague term that cannot be truly defined.

“This whole phrase of ‘on the spectrum’ is so broad, and includes so many things. I mean we’re all ‘on the spectrum’ in some way. Every artist I know is somewhere ‘on the spectrum’,” says Schultz with a laugh.

LaZebnik agrees that the term is all too encompassing, and says his play is meant to bring attention to a growing movement in the autistic community that seeks to find greater acceptance of those who exhibit behaviors that fall somewhere on the spectrum. The movement includes a fundamental change in terminology in referring to autism as a “difference,” rather than a disability.

“It is about the very inherent conflict of do you try to engage fully in the neuro-typical world, or say to the world — ‘I’m different. Deal with me on my terms’,” LaZebnik says.

Jacqueline Schultz

Jacqueline Schultz

“It’s about this other way of looking at it — a different way of thinking,” says Schultz.

Modern technology has helped paved the way for the growing movement for change. The increasing number of websites, blogs, and chat rooms created for and by people with autism “have joined people from all over the world in a community of like others who can relate to each other,” says LaZebnik. “The technological revolution has liberated people.”

Email communication and the invention of communicative devices, such as the Proloquo, have helped autistic people overcome many aspects of autism that interfere with their ability to engage in social interaction. It also eliminates many of the “gray areas” of human communication, such as sarcastic tones, facial expressions, and physical gestures, that are often difficult to interpret by people with autistic symptoms, according to LaZebnik.

The play attempts to capture this facet of communication between its autistic characters through the use of multimedia aspects of the production, including audio voice-overs and video screens.

“The play demonstrates how technology has allowed the characters to communicate what’s inside, rather than be judged on the outside,” says Schultz.

At the crux of the matter is a basic civil rights issue, say supporters of the movement. But LaZebnik says his play is designed “not to advocate, but just to demonstrate.”

Schultz says the play adequately “addresses the movement in a public manner.”

“The way in which people with autism and Asperger’s are portrayed in this script is very different” from most previous treatments of the subject, she says.

A Love Story

At the heart of the play is a love story between its two central characters. Iris (Virginia Newcomb) suffers from severe communicative difficulties due to her autism, but she finds a voice through technology and becomes an online activist in the movement for acceptance. Mac (Dan Shaked), whose mother Elizabeth (Jeanie Hackett) has provided him with years of mainstreaming and therapy, passes as “typical” in the world. When Mac and Iris meet online, a relationship develops that challenges Elizabeth’s hopes for her son, while raising questions about the definition of “normal.”

Dan Shaked and Virginia Newcomb.

Dan Shaked and Virginia Newcomb

“Iris has an opinion. Elizabeth has an opinion. Mac bridges both of those worlds,” says Schultz.

LaZebnik says that watching the struggles of his eldest nephew to have a relationship was an impetus for the love story component of the play. “I started thinking, ‘what is his world like?’ So I took this conflict of outlooks and layered it into a love story,” he says.

Schultz says the play “does a great a job of breaking down the myths about autism and autistic people. They can feel. They can fall in love. They can get actively involved in their own community,” she says.

“Part of the love story is a mother’s love for her son,” says LaZebnik. Elizabeth struggles with letting go of her expectations for Mac in favor of allowing him to become his own person. Mac struggles with letting go of those expectations as well.

“His mother has been his guardian and shield, his whole life. The potential of him going off with this girl obviously is hard for her, and it’s hard for him to contemplate leaving her,” says LaZebnik.

Finding a resolution in the ending was his most difficult challenge in writing the play, he says. “We went through some different options, but oddly enough we went back to the original ending.”

Choosing the Right Cast

The writer and director both agree that casting the play is a difficult part of the process of bringing it to the stage. Finding the right actors to portray autistic characters is a challenging facet of the piece. The premiere production in Minneapolis brought in an autistic woman to play the role of Iris, a concept that Schultz entertained during casting for her production.

Dan Shaked and Jeanie Hackett.

Jeanie Hackett and Dan Shaked

“I tried an agency that specializes in special needs actors, but it just didn’t fit,” she says.

Casting the role of Mac was the biggest struggle in the process. “It was a very extended search to find this person who is the right Mac,” says LaZebnik.

Working from a stack of resumes, Schultz called the best people in for the first round of auditions. “But it just didn’t walk in the room,” she says.

Looking for a distinct physicality, paired with the talent she sought to match her vision for the role, sent her back to the drawing board to consider additional options.

“I didn’t want to settle, so we went back [to the resumes] until we found Dan,” she says.

Early preparation included watching a lot of videos and reading multiple books about autism.

“As an actor, you try to look at what the symptoms are of the diagnosis, but there’s no blood test. It’s diagnosis by behavior, so you have this wide variety and combinations of behaviors. ‘On the spectrum’ is what they say when they don’t know what else to say,” says Schultz.

Schultz took her cast members to the school where she teaches to observe the behavior of her students, and together they also attended a high school dance to watch special needs students socially interact with one another.

“If you’re going to do a play, you have to have a concept of how you see it, but I go into rehearsal as a collaborator. It’s a collaborative art,” she says.

A shortened rehearsal schedule has also been a challenge to overcome, especially in dealing with the play’s many technical aspects, Schultz says.

“This is a tech-heavy show. It’s always a challenge getting what you’ve done in the rehearsal room to connect with the tech in actuality,” says Schultz.

Dan Shaked

Dan Shaked

The collaborative work includes video design by Jeffrey Elias Teeter and sound design byPeter Bayne as part of the effort to illustrate the central question — disability or difference?

“I don’t know that the play answers the question as much as it asks the question,” says Schultz.

“I tried presenting both sides in as intelligent a way as possible,” says LaZebnik.

Nonetheless, LaZebnik says the ultimate message of the play comes through Mac’s character in the end. “I certainly, at the end of the play, have Mac embrace who he is. Authenticity of self is what trumps everything — self-awareness,” he says.

Schultz says she hopes audiences have a similar reaction to the play that she has had.

“It’s humbled me in the sense that these parts are so difficult to play, and it has introduced me to a new way of viewing this community, and I thank it for that, because I think it’s a good thing,” says Schultz.

“I would love it,” LaZebnik says, “if people saw these characters as just two unique human beings who fall in love.”

Steven Sabel writes for LA Stage Times.

On the Spectrum March 16 – April 28  (323) 663-1525   MORE

This production is sponsored, in part, by The Help Group.

Poet with Autism Shares His Words with all ‘On the Spectrum’

Scott Lentine

Scott Lentine

West Coast Premiere of Fountain Theatre’s ‘On the Spectrum’ Catches the Eye of Poet with Autism 

by Scott Lentine

I am a 25 year old man with high-functioning autism (PDD-NOS/Asperger’s) from Billerica, MA, a Boston suburb. I graduated from Merrimack College magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in Religious Studies with a Biology minor. I am currently an office intern at the Arc of Massachusetts in Waltham, where I try to persuade lawmakers to pass key disability resources legislation to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities. I am interested in data clerical entry duties, hospital settings, autism non-profit organizations, and research type work.  I have some autism song/poems that I wanted to share with people on the autism spectrum and to musicians who support autism causes.

Just a Normal Day

Never knowing what to say

Never knowing what to do

Always looking for clues

Just a normal day

Feeling unsure

Totally perplexed with everyday life

Always on edge never certain

I wish I could lift this curtain

Needing to constantly satisfy my need for information

Always online searching for new revelations

Going from site to site

Obtaining new insights every night

Trying to connect with people my age

Attempting to reveal my unique vision

But ending up alone and unengaged

Feeling like my needs a total revision

Just a normal day.

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked in “On the Spectrum” at the Fountain Theatre.

Can’t You See

Can’t you see

I just want to have a friend

Can’t you see

I need the same connections in the end

Can’t you see

I want a good job

Can’t you see

I need to have stability and dependence and part of the general mob

Can’t you see

I want to be independent on my own

Can’t you see

I want to be able to have my own home

Can’t you see

I want the same things as everyone else

Can’t you see

I want to be appreciated for myself.

Dan Shaked in "On the Spectrum"

Dan Shaked in “On the Spectrum”

The Ode to the Autistic Man

Try to understand the challenges that I face

I would like to be accepted as a human in all places

Where I will end up in life I don’t know

But I hope to be successful wherever I go

I would like to expand my social skills in life

Making new friends would be very nice

Stand proud for the autistic man

For he will find a new fan

I hope to overcome the odds I face today

Increased acceptance will lead me to a brighter day

By the age of 20, I will have made tremendous strides

I know in the future, life will continue to be an interesting ride

I have made new friends by the year

I will be given tremendous respect by my family and peers

I hope to get noted for bringing the issue of autism to the common man

So that autistic people can be accepted in this great land

Stand proud for the autistic man

For he will find a new fan

I hope to overcome the odds I face today

Increased acceptance will lead me to a brighter day.


Marshfield Memories poem

Today is a beautiful day on the beach

There are plenty of people and dogs to see

The water is warm and the sky is bright

And seeing some people flying a kite

I am having a fun time with cousins and friends

Hoping that this day will never end

The ocean and sands are comfortable and feel so right

Taking a walk towards Brant Rock in the strong sunlight

Now it is the evening of the third of July

Watching the amazing fireworks from the seawall go by

Talking with family about the latest moments of the day

And meeting some new friends along the way

It was a great time on the beach today

Reading a book and going into the ocean on a bright clear day

These are moments that I will remember for a long time

Being on the beach on a nice warm day is truly sublime.

Visit Scott Lentine on his blog

On the Spectrum at the Fountain Theatre. The West Coast Premiere of a funny and touching love story with a difference. Mac has Asperger’s. Iris has autism. An online chat blossoms into an unforgettable friendship. Not your (neuro)typical love story. March 16 – April 28 (323) 663-1525  MORE

This production is sponsored, in part, by The Help Group.

‘On the Spectrum’ Production Photos

M & I embrace

Dan Shaked and Virginia Newcomb in “On the Spectrum”

Not your (neuro)typical love story.

Mac has Asperger’s.  Iris has autism. Jacqueline Schultz directs Jeanie Hackett,Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked in the West Coast premiere of a funny, touching and unconventional romance. On the Spectrum by Ken LaZebnik opens this Saturday, March 16th, at The Fountain Theatre.

Quirky and unexpected, On the Spectrum is a love story with a difference. In LaZebnik’s award-winning play, an online e-chat blossoms into a heartfelt courtship between two exceptional young people with autism.

Check Out the ‘On th Spectrum’ Production Photos

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Production photos by Ed Krieger.  This production is sponsored, in part, by The Help Group.

On the Spectrum  March 16 – April 28  (323) 663-1525   MORE

PHOTOS: Sneak Peek at ‘On the Spectrum’ Rehearsals at the Fountain Theatre

"On the Spectrum" at the Fountain Theatre

“On the Spectrum” at the Fountain Theatre

Video Projections Create the Play’s Magical “Other World” 

In the Fountain Theatre’s West Coast premiere of Ken LaZebnik’s On the Spectrum, Iris has autism and a deep, vivid inner life that she creates online on her “Other World” blog. That world comes to life on stage through the vision of director Jacqueline Schultz and the wizardry of video designer Jeffrey Teeter.

Enjoy these photos  snapped at tech rehearsals. An early glimpse at what’s to come.

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On the Spectrum March 16 – April 28 (323) 663-1525  MORE

This production sponsored, in part, by The Help Group.