“Behind the Wall” – the Autism Performance

By Jazmin Justo

“Behind the Wall” is a one of kind performance about a mother and her strained relationship with her autistic son. The performance took place at The Steve and Marie Sgouros Theatre as part of the 15th annual Fringe Festival. The performance casted actress Joyce Lao, as the mother of the autistic child, Andy (Andy Miyamotto). The play began with the two chasing each other for a picture frame. As the boy chases his mother, one can tell the boy is not well coordinated in his movements and has trouble speaking as he simply grunts in frustration when the mother doesn’t give him the painting. Halfway through the chasing, the mother pulls out the blanket to distract him but to the mom’s surprise, he successfully grabs the painting. This scene is quite humorous considering how Andy is very tall and clumsy.

However, once the scene ends, the mom takes her guitar and writes a song with sorrowful tune about her frustration in not being able to understand or communicate with her son because he is unable to express himself freely and she can only guess how much pain he might be in. After her song, she sniffles as she watches a video of her son playing in the park with her. She enunciates his name and tries to teach him a pat-a-cake. He somewhat succeeds often being distracted or doing other arm movements and is able to slightly enunciate his name while smiling.

After this scene, there is a fast paced tempo instrumental music with a heavy emphasis on the drumbeat. The two appear holding long wooden sticks and together dance in tune to the rhythm. The sticks hit each other in the midst of turns and twists. Within a few minutes the synchrony is disrupted when Andy holds her pair of sticks and tries to take it from her through tugs and pulls. He fails and the mother poses in a manner as if threatening to hit him. He crawls away scared and saddened. When he leaves, the mother falls to the floor and the scene darkens, leaving it to the spectator to speculate the meaning of the dance.

The next scene follows with more instrumental music and improvised dancing, with the two in synchrony of each other. In between the energized and lively dancing, there would be moments would be moments when they would chase each other or roll on the floor and kick the air. After this scene, the two used a simple white sheet for a shadow show using their hands. With their hands, they both made different shadow effects.

Following the scene, Andy appears alone, fumbling his hands and stretching his arms. He hears loud sounds from the speakers and echoes of water dropping. He becomes agitated in his arm movements and even gets scared when he hears the sounds of televisions, radios and vehicles getting louder and louder. The sound slowly fades and he becomes calm again when he hears the sound of the wind and birds chirping. Then the mom walks into the scene and leads Andy to the park. Andy is distracted when he hears the many sounds of vehicles, dogs, and airplanes. Once at the park, the mom tries to teach Andy his name and how to play a children’s game. He laughs and jumps happily as he slightly mumbles along to the song. When mother leaves to get something, he wanders off. Through the sound effects, the audience can tell there’s a fierce rainstorm and the mom is scared when she can’t find Andy. Through the audience’s help, she is able to find Andy and at the finale of the play, they are seen together at home tickling each other and playing hand games.

In essence, the play relies heavily on the use of music, sound effects, and dance to convey their character’s emotions with very little dialogue. The audience has to rely on its imagination as the actor’s use very few props for the scenery however this is effective to divert the audience’s attention to their body language and music to understand the characters. It also gives insight to the complex feelings the mother and son feel for each other because of the son’s autism. As it is their first improv play, it was intriguing and insightful.

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