Image Description: Sophie Smyth and Ryan Smedley stand in front of a dark blank background, staring with exaggerated expressions of enthusiasm. Sophie is on the left, dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, with Ryan standing on the right in a bright orange smart shirt.
By Lachlan Serventy
The Aspie Hour is, well, an hour about two young performer’s experiences with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Sophie Smyth and Ryan Smedley were both diagnosed with Aspergers as kids, so they decided to make a mini musical about their autism.
Smyth and Smedley share a deep love for musical theatre. They live and breathe it and it’s helped shape their lives. So why not produce a show combining these two very important influences?
It makes for quite a show. Smedley and Smyth are both very talented performers who know how to engage an audience. In fact, despite not being a fan of musicals (Hamilton fans, don’t @ me), I still thoroughly enjoyed Smyth and Smedley’s performances. They’re both fun, witty, and have great artistic chemistry. They’ve been performing TAH for nearly three years now and that familiarity creates a sense of precision and harmony.
The stories they tell in TAH are a wonderful blend of explaining their differences while showing us their broader life experiences.
The first half hour is spent on Smedley’s story. After leaving uni, he went all the way to New York City on an artistic pilgrimage to Broadway. While there, in one of the biggest cities in the world, he committed to seeing a Broadway show a night. He relates these experiences in a highly moving way. In one number, he talks about the handsome stranger he fell for in Central Park, and the sadness he felt at realising that, after that night, he would probably never see him again. While never losing his comedic rhythm, Smedley weaves a deeply touching tale about loneliness, love, and the pressures of young adulthood. He ties the experiences he had in New York together by reflecting on the impact his autism had.
The second half is Smyth’s. Taking a different, even more comedic tone than Smedley’s, she discusses the problems of ‘dating while autistic’ and of growing up in a rural South Australian town, always knowing she was a bit different. Wearing a perfect custom-made replica of Dorothy’s famous blue dress and ruby shoes from The Wizard of Oz, she sings and dances her way through vignettes about Tinder, the man she thought she might marry, and just how much she relates to the characters of Wicked. Smyth is hilarious and really commits to her performance.
On a slightly tangential note, massive props to her for dancing so well in those heels. Running through six different styles of dance in two minutes must be hard enough without three-inch heels.
TAH also addresses the unfortunate fact that the neurodivergent community sees so little representation in current media. At best you’ll see a side character or two, generally modelled around stereotypes about people with autism. These can include: poor social skills, ‘overloading’, hyper-fixations, and preoccupation with order. While these are all facts of life for a lot of neurodivergent people, to see the experience of an entire group boiled down to these traits is frustrating. Smyth and Smedley tackle these problems head on. They acknowledge the presence and effects of the differences in people with autism, while also asking the audience to realise that there’s a lot more to living as a person with autism than just these differences. Hopefully, Smyth and Smedley’s wonderful production opens the door for more neurodivergent artists to share the experiences they’ve had.
Author’s note: The DSM-5 combined Aspergers with ASD in 2013 making it a subcategory of ASD. As well as this, a large portion of the non-neurotypical/Autistic community view ASD not as a disorder, but rather, as a difference. For this reason, I’ve used the terms “person with autism” or “neurodiverse” to refer to autism and people with autism.
The Aspie Hour is on at The Blue Room until the 15th. Tickets start at $28 and you can find information on them here.
Four out of Five trips to Broadway
Lachlan Serventy really doesn’t get musical theatre.
Image courtesy of FRINGE WORLD Festival
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Other Festivals have demonstrated that ethical sources of funding are possible – you can read more, and sign the petition, here: https://www.change.org/p/fringeworld-side-with-the-climate-and-drop-woodside-petroleum // #fossilfreefringe #fossilfreearts // Arts and Cultural Workers for Climate Action