This week’s letters discuss diversity and quotas in the wider industry, dropping marks in drama schools and misrepresentation of autistic mothers in theatre shows
Autism is not a literary device
The staging of Mike Heath’s The Big Things at London’s Barons Court Theatre led to concern within the autistic community. Portraying a late-diagnosed autistic mother who struggles to love her child, the play raised the spectre of some enduring, pernicious and inaccurate stereotypes. Kibo Productions said it was researched with reference to autism charities, but with no direct contact with autistic mothers.
Autism has long been misunderstood. Lack of feeling and emotion are not diagnostic criteria of autism. However, it crops up regularly in texts written by non-autistic people and it’s vital to challenge this misapprehension.
Autistic mothers are loving, affectionate and deeply engaged. That is not to deny that we face multiple challenges, but autism is a very broad spectrum, representing millions of unique experiences. The blanket assumption that we struggle to love is a lazy, outdated cliché.
We are not challenging the author’s right to portray anyone – fiction would be very flat if we only wrote about ourselves. We are, however, suggesting that, when you represent a minority community, you have a responsibility to properly research it through first-hand contact. There is an opportunity to turn the tables on received ideas; to elevate the vulnerable; to punch up, instead of punching down.
This also applies to the producers, actors and theatre. We urge you to be more critical when considering whether to stage these pieces, to evaluate the power dynamics and ask where the insights come from. Put better critical processes in place and you will get more meaningful, potent and socially active theatre.
A feedback opportunity was offered in the form of a Q&A one evening. This was inaccessible to many autistic mothers, and not just because it was likely to be a charged and confrontational environment. Most of us would have been doing the same as other mothers do on a Friday night: treating cut knees, chatting about our children’s days, babysitting grandchildren and kissing our kids goodnight. It may be too mundane to excite the drama critics, but we wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Jax Blunt, Sonia Boue, Fiona Clarke, Jenni Cook, Shona Davison, Cheryl Grange, EL Hetherington, Susan Hodgkinson, Kathy Isaacs, Rachael Lucas, Katherine May, Eve Reiland, Paula Sanchez, Tracy Turner, Rhi Williams
Autistic mothers and creative artists