The Knightdale Repertory Theatre will put on its fourth “awareness” play under Knightdale High School of Collaborative Design’s theater arts director Nichole Gibbs with a performance looking at the pressures of dealing with an autistic child.
“Falling,” which premieres Wednesday, Nov. 2, at Knights Theater at the school, is a one-act drama telling the story of Josh, an 18-year-old with autism, and how his family struggles to come to grips with his disability.
“This play isn’t about autism. It is about loving someone who is hard to love,” said stage manager Christopher Cates, who said the subject matter was relevant to his life because he has an uncle with autism. “It really brings to life how hard parents have to work to raise an autistic child,” he said.
The students said they did research online, including watching videos on YouTube of autistic behavior, so they could assure a realistic portrayal of someone suffering from autism.
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Christian Zander, who plays Josh, also said he watched “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Rain Man,” Hollywood movies that feature an autistic character, to prepare. He adds realistic touches such as lack of eye contact and constant movement.
“I just wanted to make it as accurate as possible,” Zander said, “so it wasn’t like a mockery, because it could offend people if it wasn’t done accurately.”
The play deals with all kinds of family dynamics, Gibbs said, with the small cast of five portraying not only the difficulties the parents have with Josh, but also his sister’s struggles dealing with her brother’s condition and the strain it puts on his mother and father’s relationship with one another. As the family considers whether Josh can move out of the home, it shows the difficulties adults with special needs can have finding shelter and support.
Gibbs said she surveys her students to see what issues they are dealing with when selecting a topic for the awareness play each year. Other awareness plays she has led her students through include “I Just Want to Tell Somebody,” which dealt with child abuse; “The Girl in the Mirror,” which dealt with suicide and mental illness; and “Fame,” which dealt with sexuality and drug use.
Gibbs has encouraged her students to get involved in the subject offstage as well, spending some time working with students in special needs classes.
Knightdale students will also perform the play Friday, Nov. 4, and Saturday, Nov. 5, at the North Carolina Theatre Conference regional festival at Wake Forest High School, where they will have 45 minutes or less to set up the stage, perform the play and then strike the set.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826
If You Go
“Falling” will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, at Knights Theater at Knightdale High School of Collaborative Design. Admission is $5.