EPIC Players Underground – A Celebration of Personal Narratives
Tired of enduring misrepresentations and caricatures of people with autism on stage and screen? If so, you would have appreciated EPIC Players’ Underground performance at Gossip Bar. Both tender and humorous, each performance was refreshingly honest and brave in a world where fake news and cowardice (mostly) prevail as the new normal.
EPIC Underground’s March 5th performance was the culmination of an eight-week class focused on creating a personal narrative for the stage. The class also served as an introduction to the art of emceeing, public speaking and active listening in addition to fast-paced critical thinking skills necessary for performing in front of a live audience. This semester’s goal was to create a compelling individual stage persona for each class member.
In order to create an effective and entertaining personal stage presence, a great deal of time and effort was spent on self-editing. Students with autism (particularly those who like to ramble like my daughter Samantha) learned to CUT and (cut some more!). As my daughter would be the first to admit, crossing out extra words and pages is not “easy peasy.” All artists invest time, energy and heart into their creations, but artists with autism must work exponentially harder because of their communication challenges. In the end, all of the EPIC actors left pages on the cutting room floor and learned that “less is more” in the service of live art and entertainment.
Last Tuesday’s show was hosted by Director of Operations and teaching artist Talia Eapen, who opened with her own narrative on the ups and downs of being single before introducing the first of 13 performers. Each performance was wildly different from the next. Anton’s Spivack’s honest and self-deprecatingly humorous description of living with Asperger’s Syndrome and his dating experience was entertaining as well as revealing. Mark Anthony Mendez and his mom together painted the picture of a little boy who didn’t speak until he was five, received a diagnosis of autism and a very grim prognosis. Neither mother nor son accepted the doomsday forecast. (Sound familiar?) Today Mark Anthony is a passionate and articulate autism advocate.
Perseverance and resilience were major themes throughout the evening. The audience saw how it felt for a daughter to be rejected and abandoned by her father because of her autism and the pain of always being labeled “different.” My daughter Samantha talked about her long autism road and how much she loved and appreciated her family, friends and EPIC Players in supporting her through her challenges. For humor and variety, she sang a line from the Disney song, “A Whole New World” and was fed a grape while pretending to be a celebrity.
Speaking of variety, we also heard from Harrison Gottfried who had prepared a hilarious scene, alternating between speaking as a high-pitched Donald Duck and his regular voice. Another unusual performance came from 15 year- old Maeve Press, who at her young age has already performed stand-up comedy in several clubs. Discovered by Talia at Stand Up New York, Maeve’s routine was funnier than many comedians twice her age. Out of the mouths of babes….
Later in the show teaching artists Jessica Saul and Max Baudisch performed mini-stand up routines and introduced the remaining performers.
More successful than anyone could have expected, EPIC Players performed to a packed house. Thirty people were expected and seventy people squeezed into the Gossip Bar—a far bigger turnout than we had last year at a comedy club in Queens. Every single chair was taken; EPIC staff members ended up pitching in to help the lone waitress to serve food and drinks.Next year’s show will probably be even bigger and better, as cast members hone their narrative and comedic skills. In the meantime, make sure you purchase tickets early for EPIC’s Cabaret Fund Raiser on April 23rd at Lincoln Center. (Could there be a more exciting venue?) Last year’s cabaret sold out early, so don’t miss your chance to see my songbird Samantha and all her talented friends at EPIC singing their hearts out.