What a whirlwind year 2017 turned out to be! Watching our daughter Samantha blossom as an actress and autism ambassador, and speaking to hundreds of adoring fans of her movie Keep the Change has been an unparalleled thrill. In the past two weeks alone, our family has travelled to three Jewish film festivals—Rutgers, Philadelphia and Boston. Sandwiched in the middle was EPIC Players’ first musical production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, with my daughter Samantha starring as Lucy. The entire cast gave truly EPIC performances. Charlie Brown opened to a rave review in Broadway World at
http://www.yesbroadway.com/archivefeed/charliebrown and filled nearly all 100 seats for every night of our four-day run at The Flea Theater.
Yes, this Thanksgiving I feel more grateful than ever. First and foremost, I’m thankful to Rachel Israel for “discovering” Samantha at the JCC and casting her in an award-winning feature film that lifted her self-esteem and changed her life forever. Keep the Change has been opening the minds and hearts of audiences around the world to the passions and the potential of people on the autism spectrum. At least for the moment, Samantha and a few other actors on the spectrum have risen from complete obscurity and isolation to a warm embrace and hard-won respect.
Each film festival has been wonderful and special in its own way. Winning Best Narrative Film, Best New Director and a Best Actress nomination for Samantha at Tribeca was just the beginning of our autism fairy tale. At Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, a few THOUSAND people photographed, complimented and gave a standing ovation to Samantha and her co-star Brandon Polansky. At our next festival in San Francisco, we enjoyed a warm welcome and a unique Shabbat dinner at a furniture showroom. I also had a chance to see my favorite (and only!) first cousin Josh Karter. At Rutgers, the organizers ordered us deli sandwiches so we wouldn’t go hungry. In Philadelphia, the director of the festival drove us everywhere and provided insightful intel on the history and behind -the-scenes workings of her film festival. Finally, on our way to Boston (our last film festival for 2017), I received a panicked phone call on the Metroliner.
“Is Samantha on the train with you?” The festival organizer sounded genuinely worried.
“Of course! What would I be doing on the train without her?” I joked.
“Well, when we checked with AMTRAK, they said the conductor had only scanned your ticket and not Samantha’s, so I was concerned…”
Concerned? Wasn’t this bordering on fanatical? “Samantha’s sitting right next to me, so no worries.” I guess I didn’t notice (or care!) that the conductor only scanned the first page of my etickets. Who would have imagined that a festival organizer would actually call AMTRAK to make sure that their movie star was safely en route?
The Boston screening of KTC was also special because we enjoyed an Elisofon mini-reunion. Our nephew, Scott, who lives nearby, joined us at the festival along with his wife Dana and their two sons Spencer, 12, and Tyler, 9. Howard’s brother Bob and sister-in-law Jane also attended the screening along with two of their friends, creating our own family cheering section.
Speaking of cheering sections, cheers and thanks to all of my friends, family and members of the autism community who have supported Samantha and Keep the Change all year long. To all of the cast members who joined us at film festivals, and the audiences who watched, listened, asked questions and loved the actors even when they rambled, you all gave me hope that kindness and empathy can survive in a hateful world.
I also want to thank Aubrie Therrien, EPIC Players’ Executive Creative Director, for creating and nurturing our neuro-inclusive theater group for talented actors with and without disabilities. She challenges every cast member to bring out their best and teaches everyone what it means to be a theater arts professional. When our scene designer quit a week before the opening of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, Aubrie—along with Travis Burbee, Associate Director and Talia Eapen, Stage Manager—worked till midnight every night to build a set so the show could go on. Thank you, thank you, thank you, as Samantha likes to say three times. Much gratitude for the set (and VIP bags) also goes to Doreen Meyers on our advisory board, who arranged for Janovic to donate paint. In addition, Doreen also procured free wine for our gift bags and food for the cast. Speaking of food, I’d like to acknowledge the generous donation of granola snacks for from Luv Michael, a bakery employing adults on the spectrum.
Lastly, I’d like to thank the entire EPIC board, especially my co-chair and life-long friend Robin Reinach, for all their support in launching EPIC, and turning my once-secret vision into a reality. Lastly, I offer gratitude and admiration to my daughter Samantha and all of EPIC’s talented cast for sharing inspirational performances after months of hard work.
Wishing everyone an EPIC Thanksgiving and fairy tale endings.