Theater

‘Tis the Season to Celebrate Neurodiversity: Spectrum Theatre Ensemble hosts holiday fundraiser, new play readings in PVD

Do you love live theater? Are you passionate or curious about neurodivergence? Spectrum Theatre Ensemble (STE), a company of neurodiverse theater artists, will be hosting a Holiday Fundraiser and new play readings on Saturday, Dec 10, from 6:30pm – 9:30pm at the Social Enterprise Greenhouse in PVD.

The reading will feature four of six new plays chosen for STE’s 2022-2023 season. All six plays, selected from a pool of 60 submissions, will be developed and performed during the company’s Spring 2023 Neurodiversity Everywhere Tour and Summer/Fall 2023 Neurodiversity New Play Festival.

The goal of the fundraising event is to help STE connect with people in the community who want to learn more about their mission. “We [also] want to thank donors and supporters who have helped open doors for new people to experience STE and get a taste of the work [we] are doing,” said Bay McCulloch, Development and Marketing Director at STE.

During last summer’s Neurodiversity New Play Festival, all plays centered around the concept of time. This year, the main goal of the plays is to increase awareness around the under or misdiagnosis of neurodiverse conditions in the BIPOC community.

Neurodiverse conditions include but are not limited to Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Dyslexia, Epilepsy, Developmental Language Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, Tourette’s and Tic Disorders, and Intellectual Disabilities.

As part of their mission, STE “engages artists and audiences in developing social skills, empathy, and self-determination.” It was founded with the belief that “theatre provides a unique, collaborative venue for the understanding and inclusion of all, and that our society and culture are stronger for it.” “We want to highlight BIPOC neurodivergent talent and to have voices from female artists,” said McCulloch. The main selection criteria for this year’s plays were “to have representation” and to “tell stories often not seen in theatre.”

Of the four plays being read at the upcoming fundraiser/reading event, two were written by STE staff members – Keeping Mum by Resident Dramaturg Craven Poole, and Space by Director of New Work Development Harmon Dot Aut. The reading will also feature The Loudness of It All by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen, and A Firework Unexploded by Dave Osmundsen.

Dot Aut’s play Space spotlights synesthesia, a condition which the APA dictionary describes as “a stimulation of one sense that generates a simultaneous sensation in another.” Dot Aut, who was recently appointed Director of New Work Development at STE, submitted the play in 2021 for the Neurodivergent Playwright Initiative, which was unanimously chosen to be staged.

“This opportunity led me to a closer working relationship with STE as we rehearsed online,” they said. They went on to write and perform a short play called Naming Things, about processing the concept of joy.

When it comes to new play submissions, Dot Aut considers them an essential part of the STE’s mission, which is to introduce the theater company to new neurodivergent writers. “At the moment, I am working with Craven Poole and Artistic Director [and STE Founder] Clay Martin to focus our attention on building up the Residency Program in order to develop full-length works that center [on] neurodivergent characters and stories,” they said.

Martin is excited to launch the Residency Program to “identify and help develop new playwrights both in PVD and abroad.” He recommends keeping an eye on the STE website for more information in the coming months. Martin founded STE as a non-profit with longtime creative partner PJ Miller in 2018, who developed a grant proposal for a Neurodiverse Theatre company. Once awarded a two-year grant, Martin and Miller partnered with Trinity Rep in 2016 to develop what has become STE.

“As a neurodivergent individual, I often faced challenges both in the classroom and socially. Theatre became a natural haven and calling for me, where I could observe and practice social interaction and thrive in a way I could not in a typical classroom,” Martin said. As it stands now, STE has exceeded Martin’s initial expectations. “Even through the pandemic, both STE and, more importantly, the artists who drive it, continue to evolve and grow exponentially year to year,” he said.

For Bay McCulloch, finding STE and eventually getting involved with them helped her come to terms with her own traumatic brain injury. “When I started with STE, I was recovering from a head injury and with all the changes I experienced, I didn’t know how to talk to people about it,” she said. Working at STE, McCulloch was able to understand and learn more about her injury as well as tend to her needs to give her best while at work. “STE is accommodating of that, whereas at other jobs, I was never able to be honest about the way my brain works,” she said. Now, McCulloch sees neurodivergence as an asset instead of a liability. “It’s amazing to get to show up as myself,” she said.

For Martin, STE has become the strong force that it is thanks to PVD. “The amazing work that organizations like Trinity Rep, The Autism Project, and so many others have done and continue to do provided a ground work and support that made a company like ours possible,” he said.

For tickets to the Holiday Fundraiser and New Play Readings event, visit the Eventbrite page. For more information, visit stensemble.org.