What I (Don’t) Know About Autism, a play written by Jody O’Neill, will soon hit the stage. The play, directed by Dónal Gallagher, will contain a cast of autistic and neurotypical actors. Using a host of characters and storylines, the play aims to celebrate autistic identity and educate neurotypical audiences. In the lead up to the play’s release, we’ll be releasing interviews with the cast and crew. Next up are actors Jayson Murray and Shay Croke!
What role do you play in What I (Don’t) Know About Autism? Is the character like you or different? How so?
I perform several different roles in the play. I play the part of a student/teacher who teaches both autistic and neuro-typical people. I also play Mary- a neuro-typical person who has a sense of racial bias and who has a fear of walking alone at night. I also perform the part of Gordon. He is autistic and lives with his parents and his brother and sister. Gordon also plays the guitar! For most of the play I am performing a version of myself, Shay.
Obviously I am very similar to this character (Shay) in every way except for the fact that he doesn’t wear clothes with logo’s on them, which I would never do! I am very different from the character of Mary not only because she’s a girl but also because she is neuro-typical and has a slight racial bias. I would say I’m like Gordon because we both love playing the guitar.
I play a variety of roles throughout the play.
The characters all have some reflection of me as the topic of the play is very personal to me. I can and do relate to many of the situations which the characters mine and others go through.
What is the biggest challenge about taking on this role?
Shay: I found that there were a lot of words I did not understand in the script so learning those was quite difficult. I also thought singing ‘A Brief History of Autism’ was quite hard.
There are some moments where the physicalisation of events experienced by autistic people can get to me a bit and I may require some time to rest and recover.
What made you go into theatre? When did you first perform?
Shay: Donal Gallagher and Medb Lambert are the reason I wanted to start acting. It is something I have loved to do since meeting them in 2016. My first ‘real’ performance was when I played the Prince in KCat’s production of ‘The Murdoch Castle Hotel’ which happened in 2016 when I was 20.
Jayson: As a child I was always wanting to perform and be on stage, my first performance was a dance show at the age of 3 in Scotland and I have loved the stage since.
What’s your favourite play?
Shay: My favourite play to watch is ‘Singing for Survival’ which I saw in Dublin in 2019.
Jayson: I love works by Martin McDonagh however I recently saw Asking for It and it was truly the most incredible experience I have had at the theatre.
What is your experience with autism?
Shay: My experience with autism has been very difficult at times. It is hard because you can’t take the autism out of your body and your brain. It can be very frustrating. I found school particularly hard because some teachers didn’t know anything about autism and could be mean to me because they didn’t understand that I couldn’t concentrate. There are some good things about being autistic though! I get to take part in things like the Special Olympics and I am so dedicated to my art which I think is partly because of my autism. I also have an amazing memory and can remember lots of things about my favourite actors and movies.
Jayson: Well, I am autistic myself and know many other autistic people such as my sister… and although it can be limiting we try to get around the obstacles and do what we love.
Anthony Hopkins once said regarding his Asperger’s
diagnosis “I definitely look at people differently. I like to deconstruct, to pull a
character apart, to work out what makes them tick and my view will not be the
same as everyone else.” How do you feel being neurodivergent affects the acting process?
Shay: I think being autistic affects the acting process in a lot of different ways. Personally, I find it hard keeping my attention on things like learning my lines and have to come up with ways to remember them like singing them in a song. Acting with others can be very challenging as well because I don’t want to be around people sometimes and I want to be alone. Everyone is very nice to me in rehearsals though and they let me take time to myself!
Jayson: I honestly couldn’t say as I have never experienced what the acting process is for neurotypical people. So for me it is a normal experience when acting. I do find that acting is my one true escape in life and when I am acting I can just be me and I don’t need to think about my worries and fears…
Have you taken part in many relaxed performances? How do you feel they differ from standard theatre?
Shay: I don’t think I have ever taken part in a relaxed performance before. They are different because the audience can leave if they need to and can ask questions.
Jayson: I have taken part in many types of performances but to my knowledge never a relaxed one… however I have been an audience member of a relaxed performance.
Do you have a favourite moment in the play?
Shay: My favourite part of the play is the stim disco scene because we all get to sing and dance together which is so fun!
Jayson: Now now that would be telling you’ll just have to come and see the play and have your own favourite moment as I love it all.