CEDAR FALLS — Art at its best doesn’t offer easy solutions. It provides pieces of a puzzle for our brains to patch together and gain a new perspective on the world.
But a new play coming to Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in January does something unusual: It makes its audience not only think but also begin to understand their neighbors a little better.
“Yes, it’s a play about autism, but it’s a play that opens up discussion. It’s meant for you to feel empathetic, to understand more of what community members are experiencing and to open your eyes to the vastness of the spectrum,” said Blake Argotsinger, marketing manager at Gallagher Bluedorn.
Uncommon Sense, a production of New York City’s Tectonic Theater Project, is about the experiences of people on the autism spectrum, their caregivers and the people they interact with daily. Its premier performances will be at Gallagher Bluedorn on Jan. 21 and 22.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in 68 school-aged children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder, an increase from the one in 88 children in 2012.
There’s a saying about autism: If you’ve met one person on the spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum.
To ensure playwrights Andy Paris and Anushka Paris Carter didn’t resort to clichés and stereotypes, they spent years interviewing people to get a look at what autism is like.
They have been meeting with affected families from the Cedar Valley and around the world since the play was commissioned by Gallagher Bluedorn in 2012.
According to the description on the Tectonic Theater Project website, they asked what people think of when they think of autism. “The array of answers we have received is a spectrum all of its own,” it states.
The playwrights’ methodology was similar to another Tectonic Theater Project production — The Laramie Project — which chronicled the aftermath of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student. Following that tragedy, the theater company conducted more than 200 interviews around Laramie, Wyo., to get a sense of what happened.
That work turned into a play, a movie and a follow-up looking back at the events 10 years later.
The idea to collaborate on Uncommon Sense followed performances of The Laramie Project and its epilogue at Gallagher Bluedorn.
“They wanted to come, and we were very excited and eager, and we talked about it as a staff, and we all looked at each other and said, ‘Absolutely, this is something that we believe in,’” said Amy Hunzelman, education and special projects director at Gallagher Bluedorn.
Hunzelman said Gallagher Bluedorn aims to address social justice issues and spur conversations about them.
Like with The Laramie Project, the play is about more than the production. There will be opportunities at Uncommon Sense to learn more about autism and hear from the families involved in the play’s creation.
Because Gallagher Bluedorn commissioned the project, its promotional materials will follow the play as it continues to tour beyond Cedar Falls. Those will include videos of families and a chance to explore information in-depth online.
Since Gallagher Bluedorn is first to show Uncommon Sense, its production team will be on campus for a couple of weeks leading up to the play. That provides a chance for University of Northern Iowa students to learn from members of the company about not only putting on a play but how to have an impact on social justice issues.
“This play … doesn’t solve what autism is. This is an opportunity for broadening your understanding and for asking questions and to continue the conversation or to spur the conversation if it hasn’t been happening,” Argotsinger said.
Tickets and additional information about the play are available at www.gbpac.com/uncommonsense.
WATERLOO — The Diversity & Inclusion Partnership of the Alliance & Chamber is presenting the 2016 Executive Diversity & Inclusion Summit from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 14 at Allen College, 1990 Heath St. The summit is designed to strengthen the Cedar Valley economic region by providing tools and information to implement effective inclusive practices.
The summit provides attendees a concentrated and focused experience with multiple activities including a keynote speaker and a dramatic presentation. Additionally, two workshops will be offered: "Generations in the Workplace," and "Employing Immigrants - What Every HR Professional Should Know." Lunch, provided by Cedar Valley Society of Human Resource Managers, will be served during the workshops. Attendees will include CEOs, human resource directors and upper management of businesses and organizations.
Two keynote presentations will be given. James Wright, diversity and inclusion strategist, will present “Moving the Race Conversation Forward.” He will explore the changing face of America and how this will affect our workforce and political climate; how to interpret U.S. Census data and begin discussing racial differences openly, honestly and respectfully; and will provide keys to introducing inclusive concepts that are usable by all leaders, managers and employees.
Theater instructor and director Andy Paris of the Tectonic Theater Project will introduce "Uncommon Sense: An Exploration of Autism Using Theatrical Form." The project is rooted in stories about Iowa families and communities affected by life on the autism spectrum.
The play will premiere January 21-22 at Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls.
Also, the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber will announce the call for nominations for the Diversity & Inclusion Awards to be presented at the 2017 annual celebration March 30.
Continuing education credits for human resources professionals are available for summit attendees. There is no cost to attend, but registration is requested no later than September 30. Workshops details, event agenda, speaker bios and registration can be found at cedarvalleyalliance.com, by contacting Danny Laudick, director of talent solutions at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 232-1156.
Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare-Iowa is the premier sponsor for the event.