Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
Musical theatre themed cabaret about life with Asperger's
Sophie Smyth and Ryan Smedley are on the autism spectrum (they have Asperger's), and they tell us what life is like for them in The Aspie Hour, an hour long musical theatre themed cabaret show. The show is autobiographical and they take turns, in two distinct styles, to walk us through their experience of Asperger's: what social interactions feel like, their love for routine and repetition, learning to deal with depression and anxiety, and being obsessive about specific interests. They talk (and sing) extensively about their shared passion for musical theatre which manifests in different but similar ways, including both taking solo trips to New York at different times, watching a lot of musical theatre there and having impactful romantic encounters with strangers while overseas.
Smedley performs the first half of the show, impressing us with his in-depth knowledge about musical theatre facts, and acing an on-the-spot audience quiz about the history of the Tony Awards. However what is even more impressive than his obsessive interest and ability to remember the most obscure of facts, is his spellbinding singing voice - it has a magical quality to it that went straight to my soul and kept me hooked. Smyth performs the second half of the show, dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, taking us through her mental process/inner dialogue of understanding and analyzing social interactions. She repeats this process with her very entertaining performed exposition of how musicals work, and wows the audience with her versatile dancing and physical performance. Rainer Pollard provides skillful and interactive keyboard accompaniment throughout the show.
There are elements of audience interaction in this show, but they are mostly laid back and low-pressure (with the potential exception of one interaction in Smyth's half of the show, which involves a surprising degree of unplanned physical contact with an audience member in the front row. This interaction seems to suggest an assumption that the audience member is neurotypical and/or not resistant to being engaged with in that way, which surprised me, but the audience member didn't seem to mind, at least not on the night I attended).
Overall, The Aspie Hour is an entertaining show which is also informative. There's a lot in there that can help neurotypical people understand a bit more about how the experiences of people on the spectrum can be different from their own. There's also a lot that is relatable for other people on the spectrum, who get to see some of their experiences represented and celebrated on stage. Smyth and Smedley are both skilled and confident performers who demonstrate that while people with Asperger's have some unique shared experiences and ways of coping in the world, they are also uniquely gifted individuals who can be very different from each other despite their similarities, and aren't contained by labels.