Last week we learned that Keep the Change would be in the Tribeca Film Festival, and this week my daughter Samantha was invited to a casting call for actors with autism! We had barely caught our breath from what Samantha calls our “happy dance.” There was no time to even think about adding “Tribeca Film Festival, female lead…” to my daughter’s resume. The casting agency wanted a headshot and resume sent that very day. Fortunately, Aubrie Therrien, director of E.P.I.C. Players (one of my daughter’s theater groups) had recently helped cast members update their resumes and take new headshots. Aubrie submitted the information for 5 of E.P.I.C.’s actors lickity split. (Lucky me, I didn’t have to re-format Samantha’s resume or squeeze in her latest and greatest credit).
After their headshots and resumes were reviewed, Samantha and her friend Gideon were invited to the casting call via email and told to “dress as usual and just bring their awesome selves.” No extra resumes, monologues or any other preparation was necessary (thankfully!) because the actors had to show up the very next day. The casting agency was shooting an on-line commercial for GLAAD/Liberty Mutual and needed actors on the autism spectrum “between the ages of 18 and 30” of all ethnicities and genders. Best of all, the casting agency was offering excellent pay rates (SAG) and even higher if the ad ended up on television. What a fabulous opportunity for actors on the spectrum to be treated and paid the same as neurotypical actors!
Alas, Samantha and Gideon were not among those chosen. Still, showing up for a crowded casting call, not knowing what to expect, was a valuable hands-on learning experience for two actors taking E.P.I.C.’s audition prep and resume-writing classes. Aubrie was kind enough to accompany my daughter on this maiden voyage, and was able to observe her audition. Actors were asked to pose for the camera and directed to offer both a neutral expression and a smile. According to Aubrie, both actors did well.
I’d bet my life that Samantha aced the smile. So what might have gone wrong? Apparently, Samantha was asked if she would be comfortable saying on camera that she had AIDS or was HIV positive. She answered “no.” Samantha understands those terms as serious STDs. What she failed to comprehend was that she wasn’t literally telling the world that, she, Samantha suffers from either disease. (She doesn’t!) Instead my daughter was being asked if she would be comfortable pretending to have a scary disease and getting paid well to do so. Although I’ve been told Samantha is a “natural” actress, pretend play was NEVER her strong suit as a child. Pretending to have a life-threatening STD—something we have taught her how to assiduously avoid—probably frightened and embarrassed her. Now it’s time to go back to the audition prep class and talk about the clear distinctions and contrasts between real-life actors and the various roles they are asked to play.
I didn’t really expect Samantha to land a commercial on her first attempt (though of course I couldn’t help hoping…) More importantly, Samantha was not discouraged. My daughter learned early that life was often a struggle, and she would have to work longer and harder than most to succeed. Being in the Tribeca film festival, going on a casting call and having the musical Wicked “like” her DreamStreet rehearsal video (singing “Popular”) have boosted her self-esteem and enthusiasm enough to keep going on auditions for a long, long time.
For me, the best news of all is that the world is starting to care about—if not always welcome—people on the spectrum. Doors are beginning to open for young adults with autism, and outdated stereotypes are slowly shattering. Samantha and her fellow-actors will be among those pioneers proudly leading the way.