Theatre show helping performers with neurodiverse disorders

Theatre is an intimidating beast. From auditions, through rehearsals and up to opening night, nerves are common for performers on every level.

But the apprehension involved in theatre is exponentially worse for people who suffer from social anxiety or neurodiverse disorders such as ADHD or autism-spectrum disorders. 

Writer and performer Sarah-Jane Fawcett is determined to make theatre more accessible for passionate and creative people with neurodiverse disorders.

Fawcett wrote her 45-minute one-act play Max Pry: Private Eye years ago but has adapted it along with a more flexible rehearsal period for people with neurodiverse disorders.

She said almost everyone in the show has a neurodiverse disorder including ADHD, autism-spectrum disorders, bipolar, sensory process disorder, depression, panic disorders or Aspergers.

After being diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease, Fawcett was forced to pull out of a production.

“(Being diagnosed) was nothing too bad but it did change my life,” she said.

“I couldn't do dance routines or anything that involved fast movement. It put me on the floor with vertigo. 

“It was disheartening and I got bad social anxiety because of it.”

Sarah-Jane Fawcett developed Max Pry: Private Eye as a performance to help neurodiverse people get involved in theatre. Picture: NONI NHYETT

Sarah-Jane Fawcett developed Max Pry: Private Eye as a performance to help neurodiverse people get involved in theatre. Picture: NONI NHYETT

Fawcett said while adapting Max Pry, she talked with people who were intimidated by the idea of theatre.

“They really wanted to do theatre but wouldn’t because they didn't have the stamina or confidence," she said. 

“A lot of them also had mental health disorders or autism spectrum disorders. I asked what they would want if we were to set up a (flexible) rehearsal period.”

For many of the theatrical hopefuls, it was a shorter rehearsals over a longer period.

“Bigger shows have tight schedules and it’s hard if you miss a rehearsal,” Fawcett said.

“I started designing a rehearsal schedule to accommodate that. So if you have a bad day it’s OK to miss a rehearsal.

“I also made sure the crew had experience working with neurodiversity.”

Max Pry: Private Eye opens at the Engine Room in View Street on January 19.

For many of the cast taking to the stage, it is their first time treading the boards.

Fawcett and the production team behind Max Pry have been making sure their neurodiverse cast members are prepared for the stresses and demands of production week.

“At the start of week they all get a little package which helps them survive tech week,” Fawcett said.

“Everyone is looking forward to it and a lot of the first timers are very excited. 

“That energy is really good but we want to make sure no one is alarmed if we have to stop the flow of a rehearsal, which happens in tech week. That is a lot better than just throwing them in there.”

Fawcett said there will be a lot of mindfulness for the Max Pry team as they work to provide a safe, calm space for the performers.

“It’s about providing them with a space where they feel safe, respected and understood,” she said.

“I had never met most of the cast before and to see the changes from the beginning to the last rehearsal is amazing.

“They've all blossomed and it’s so great to watch. I'm chuffed.”

Max Pry, the hero of the one-act play, is played by Jadyn Hoskin. 

Hoskin, who has a mild case of Asperger’s Syndrome, studied film and drama in high school but has never been in a play before.

The 29-year-old said he decided to audition as a way to get outside his comfort zone.

“Since I was 18, I have always looked for new ways to push my limits and get outside my comfort zone,” said.

“In general, being around lots of people pushes my boundaries, so I try to keep doing things even though I am quite introverted. 

“Me choosing to act was a healthy step for me.”

Rhiannon Hart and Jadyn Hoskin play the leads in Max Pry: Private Eye.

Rhiannon Hart and Jadyn Hoskin play the leads in Max Pry: Private Eye.

After deciding live theatre would be an ideal way to become more comfortable with large groups of people and fight a fear of public speaking, Hoskin said getting the lead role was brilliant.

“I have always loved theatre but considered myself more of a backstage person. (With Max Pry) I feel that if it helps me grow as a person, then I’m happy to push my boundaries,” he said.

”Maybe I will do more theatre after this or maybe it’s a once-off and I'll call it quits but I love that I feel I've done a good job and I want to give everyone who comes to see (Max Pry) a great show.”

Rhiannon Hart said working with the Max Pry team was initially terrifying but has been a good time. She plays lead character Dotty.

“I'm severely socially awkward, so spending time with people I don’t know and having a whole bunch of people watching me (is terrifying),” she said.

“But it’s crazy fun. We get to spend time with a great group of people and everyone is there to have a good time. 

“I threw myself into the deep end with this, which is really out of character for me. I’m a slow burn kind of girl.”

The cast of Max Pry: Private Eye. The show opens on January 19.

The cast of Max Pry: Private Eye. The show opens on January 19.

As opening night draws nearer for the Max Pry team, Fawcett said it was about the experience rather than the final product.

“I like the idea of doing something that isn't about the final product,” she said.

“It will be great if people come to see the cast’s hard work but it’s not about the number of tickets sold. This has been really good for these guys to build their confidence.”

Fawcett hopes more shows encourage and include neurodiverse performers.

“I think there is a reasonably big population that would like to do theatre but maybe don’t have the confidence and not just people who are neurodiverse,” she said.

“Theatre can be very much an extrovert's arena.  Introverted people who don’t quite fit in that extrovert space sometimes slip through cracks. 

"They have just as much talent and passion but just need that extra help to get them there.”