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ASPartOfMe
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12 Feb 2019, 4:06 am

Casting a puppet as an autistic child is a grotesque step backwards

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All in a Row, a new play about autism at the Southwark Playhouse, London, is under fire for reportedly using a puppet to play the part of an autistic child, with the National Autistic Society pulling its support for the production. It doesn’t help that the puppet is grey and mawkish, with earlier versions appearing more suited to a horror movie.

It would be easy to dismiss this row as another example of our online offence culture, but it goes to the heart of the dehumanisation that disabled people face – quite literally by representing us as other than human. It is particularly damaging here because of stereotypes of autism, which characterise neurodiverse individuals as unfeeling and with no autonomy.

A spokesman for the play said it was “untenable” to get autistic performers to play the part, and that there are clearly difficulties with casting children – and getting “informed consent from a nonverbal autistic actor aged 11 to play the role”

Sesame Street recently introduced an autistic character, Julia, played by a brightly coloured puppet, surrounded by fellow puppets. It is a punch to the stomach to watch all the non-disabled parts in All in a Row played by actors, while the one disabled character is an inanimate figure pulled by strings.


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ASPartOfMe
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13 Feb 2019, 12:25 am

'All in a Row' Play’s Decision to Cast an Autistic Character as a Puppet Sparks Outrage in Autism Communit

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“All in a Row” features protagonist Laurence, an autistic student, the night before he is transferred to a residential school as mandated by social services. The 90-minute play, which was written by a former caregiver for autistic people, Alex Oates, will primarily focus on the perspective of Laurence’s parents.

The autism community further expressed their outrage online using the hashtag #PuppetGate.

Like any couple, Tamora and Martin have big hopes and dreams. But when your child is autistic, nonverbal and occasionally violent, ambitions can quickly become a pipe dream,” the “All in a Row” website reads. “On the night before social services finally intervenes, who is the victim here? Who was the traitor? And who do you blame when you can no longer cope?”

Producers said they sought out autistic perspectives during the play’s creation. In a series of tweets, they said the team consulted 40 to 50 autistic people as well as parents, activists and professionals. They did make some adjustments to the play’s script and Laurence’s characterization based on feedback. Two members of the production team are autistic, according to tweets, and many consultants hired during production were on the spectrum.

The show’s creators and actors defended the puppet casting choice in a promo video. Dominic Shaw, the play’s director, called the use of a puppet “a gift to this production.”

“It made perfect sense to me because Laurence does some shocking things physically. He bites people and he has very challenging behavior,” Shaw said. “We can do that with a puppet because it is slightly removed from it being real.”

“Having a puppet onstage telling a story like that of Laurence is, I think, one of the more honest ways that we could portray the story of Laurence without falling into the traps of stereotypes,” said Hugh Purves, the puppeteer who plays the character. “This play tells a truthful story about parents and a carer and a child with severe autism.”

That’s not how the autism community sees it, however.

“The dominant discourse on autism is monopolized by non-autistic people who cast themselves as victims, and who need a silent autistic person to use as a ventriloquist puppet & cross to bear,” Dr. Elena Âû Chandler wrote on Twitter. “This play literally reduces the autistic person to a prop.”

The Mighty reached out to the creators of “All in a Row,” who declined to comment.


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18 Feb 2019, 12:24 pm

There will be a large autistic protest against this use of a puppet. Hundreds of autistics are expected to gather from around the UK and protest in front of the theatre this evening:
https://www.facebook.com/events/345514732724521/
The protest starts in fifteen minutes time. You are all invited to join in, outside the Southward Playhouse 77-85 Newington Causeway, SE1 2 London. (nearest tube stations: Elephant & Castle and Borough. nearest train station: Elephant & Castle).
I wish I had a magic elephant who could teleport me to the UK to participate in this protest.


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18 Feb 2019, 12:32 pm

How terrible. Not only from the perspective of the autistic character being portrayed as a thing, an object where everyone else in the play is human, but also because that puppet looks plain scary and disturbing.


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ASPartOfMe
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20 Feb 2019, 1:53 am

Guardian positive review

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lenty of people didn’t want this show to happen. Protesters gathered outside the theatre on opening night and more than 12,000 people with autism have signed a petition, arguing that it is dehumanising to use a puppet to depict an autistic child. What a shame. I, for one, am grateful that playwright Alex Oates and the creative team had the guts and integrity to see this one through.

There has been so much fuss about the puppet but – as with all good puppetry – it soon begins to feel human. Richly so. Designer Siân Kidd’s model is attached to puppeteer Hugh Purves’s waist, so while Laurence’s face is greyish with a neutral expression, his body is mobile. He fills the stage (lined with geometric patterns by designer PJ McEvoy) with his hums, moans, tics and chuckles. We watch him lose himself in Finding Nemo (again), carefully line up his cakes (again), hug and stroke his parents (again) and just occasionally lash out. At one point, Laurence’s mother emerges with a darkly bruised cheek. It’s a sign of the subtle depths of Dominic Shaw’s production that this biting scene brims with love.

As the two struggle to let their son go, Martin reassures his wife: “It’s OK to love somebody, and wonder what it would be like if they were someone else.”


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Prometheus18
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20 Feb 2019, 6:11 am

Doesn't offend me one bit. All that does offend me is the patronisation of someone else's presuming to be offended on my behalf.


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20 Feb 2019, 8:11 am

Prometheus18 wrote:
Doesn't offend me one bit. All that does offend me is the patronisation of someone else's presuming to be offended on my behalf.


Oh wow yes.
I wish the outrage culture could be reigned in, it's damaged real causes, and for what... 'individualisms' emotional gratification?
I don't know what else to call it.



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20 Feb 2019, 8:57 am

Amity wrote:
Prometheus18 wrote:
Doesn't offend me one bit. All that does offend me is the patronisation of someone else's presuming to be offended on my behalf.


Oh wow yes.
I wish the outrage culture could be reigned in, it's damaged real causes, and for what... 'individualisms' emotional gratification?
I don't know what else to call it.


Personally, I think it's suspicious that so many wealthy businessmen are funding the offence-taking culture (George Soros is the first to come to mind). The only conclusion to draw from this is that big business has a vested interest in keeping people offended, though I don't know why. One reason that has occurred to me is that, while the left is fixated on ineffectual nonsense like taking offence at people's choices of words, it isn't condemning the corruption and amorality of big business and its leaders, which was the traditional role of the radical left in Europe and America.


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- Arthur Schopenhauer


ASPartOfMe
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20 Feb 2019, 9:30 am

I can only bring partial judgement to a play I am never going see. Using a puppet is not objectionable, Sesame Street’s Julia is fine. It is that only the autistic character is a puppet and the puppet is ugly that raises red flags.

As I have said in the PPR threads the problem is that when everything is seemingly offensive nothing is. What I mean by that, that it creates a “boy cried wolf” effect wherby when somebody has a legitimate complaint about something being offensive people just say “oh no, not again” and tune it out or assume the person complaining is a snowflake who needs to get a life.


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Amity
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20 Feb 2019, 2:10 pm

ASPartOfMe wrote:
I can only bring partial judgement to a play I am never going see. Using a puppet is not objectionable, Sesame Street’s Julia is fine. It is that only the autistic character is a puppet and the puppet is ugly that raises red flags.

As I have said in the PPR threads the problem is that when everything is seemingly offensive nothing is. What I mean by that, that it creates a “boy cried wolf” effect wherby when somebody has a legitimate complaint about something being offensive people just say “oh no, not again” and tune it out or assume the person complaining is a snowflake who needs to get a life.


It is tiring to sift through and separate the legitimate complaints from the 'outrage to satisfy emotional' wants.
If there had been an actor playing the non verbal autistic person, I'm sure there would be outrage over some other perceived offence.

I've not seen the play, nor am I likely to either, I reserve judging the production until I had the context of the overall message.
------
Also ...so what if the character is ugly ...should ASD folk be portrayed as beautiful? Would that be less offensive?



ASPartOfMe
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20 Feb 2019, 4:40 pm

Amity wrote:
------
Also ...so what if the character is ugly ...should ASD folk be portrayed as beautiful? Would that be less offensive?

Like you said it depends on the overall context of the play. If he is bullied for being ugly he should be ugly. But is the two factors together that makes me wonder.


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20 Feb 2019, 6:16 pm

Prometheus18 wrote:
Doesn't offend me one bit. All that does offend me is the patronisation of someone else's presuming to be offended on my behalf.


I hear you. It makes you feel a little patronized ah?



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26 Feb 2019, 1:52 am

ALL IN A ROW: THOUSANDS URGE SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE TO CANCEL PLAY OVER PUPPET ‘DEHUMANISING AUTISTIC CHILDREN’

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Almost 19,000 people have signed a petition urging the Southwark Playhouse to cancel one of its plays over its controversial portrayal of an autistic boy.

he National Autistic Society – which was consulted by the play’s writer, Alex Oates – has also said that it cannot support the play in its current form over the puppet.


However, while recognising the controversy, the Playhouse’s artistic director, Chris Smyrnios said the venue supported the writer’s decision to use a mannequin to portray Laurence’s character.

“The writer thought it was essential that the character of Laurence, the child in the play, was represented in the piece but felt it inappropriate for the creative team to cast a child, autistic or not, in the role,” said Mr Smyrnios in a statement.

“This was in the interest of child protection: the themes and some dialogue in the play are of an adult nature; also there was a desire to honestly depict the challenges of caring for someone with Laurence’s particular behaviour and needs, which meant portraying a certain physicality that would be unsafe for a child performer.”

Some have reacted positively to the work on social media. “All in a Row was accurate, direct, raw and truthful. An honour to watch,” said one viewer.

“Working with autistic children I’ve imagined what life at home for parents can be like. I utterly applaud Alex Oates and the whole team for allowing us to not pity but celebrate Autism.”


Jane Harris, the National Autistic Society’s director of external affairs, said the production company behind All in a Row had approached the charity for feedback on the play’s portrayal of autism.

“We are pleased the production company made two changes in response, one for accuracy and another around representation,” she said.

“However, while recognising some of the play’s strengths, we decided we could not support the play overall due to its portrayal of autism, particularly the use of a puppet to depict only the autistic character and none of the others.”

The petition comes after a protest by activists outside of the Southwark Playhouse on Newington Causeway last week over the puppet.

The play, which stars EastEnders actor Charlie Brooks as Laurence’s mother Tamora, runs from Feburary 14 to March 9th.


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Amity
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27 Feb 2019, 7:44 am

ASPartOfMe wrote:
ALL IN A ROW: THOUSANDS URGE SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE TO CANCEL PLAY OVER PUPPET ‘DEHUMANISING AUTISTIC CHILDREN’
Quote:
Almost 19,000 people have signed a petition urging the Southwark Playhouse to cancel one of its plays over its controversial portrayal of an autistic boy.

he National Autistic Society – which was consulted by the play’s writer, Alex Oates – has also said that it cannot support the play in its current form over the puppet.


However, while recognising the controversy, the Playhouse’s artistic director, Chris Smyrnios said the venue supported the writer’s decision to use a mannequin to portray Laurence’s character.

“The writer thought it was essential that the character of Laurence, the child in the play, was represented in the piece but felt it inappropriate for the creative team to cast a child, autistic or not, in the role,” said Mr Smyrnios in a statement.

“This was in the interest of child protection: the themes and some dialogue in the play are of an adult nature; also there was a desire to honestly depict the challenges of caring for someone with Laurence’s particular behaviour and needs, which meant portraying a certain physicality that would be unsafe for a child performer.”

Some have reacted positively to the work on social media. “All in a Row was accurate, direct, raw and truthful. An honour to watch,” said one viewer.

“Working with autistic children I’ve imagined what life at home for parents can be like. I utterly applaud Alex Oates and the whole team for allowing us to not pity but celebrate Autism.”


Jane Harris, the National Autistic Society’s director of external affairs, said the production company behind All in a Row had approached the charity for feedback on the play’s portrayal of autism.

“We are pleased the production company made two changes in response, one for accuracy and another around representation,” she said.

“However, while recognising some of the play’s strengths, we decided we could not support the play overall due to its portrayal of autism, particularly the use of a puppet to depict only the autistic character and none of the others.”

The petition comes after a protest by activists outside of the Southwark Playhouse on Newington Causeway last week over the puppet.

The play, which stars EastEnders actor Charlie Brooks as Laurence’s mother Tamora, runs from Feburary 14 to March 9th.


I had a look at the locations of the people signing this petition, it's international, and that in itself is valid.
I would be more interested in a petition representative of the context of how people belonging to the local/UK culture perceive the play. Particularly those who made an informed/independent decision after attending the play.



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01 Mar 2019, 9:37 pm

Why couldn't they use puppets to represent some of the NT cast members? BTW, the puppet is ugly and scary looking.


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