Tim

When the country went back into full lockdown last January as the second wave of the virus took hold, our biggest worry as always was how on earth Tim would manage.  As a young man with complex autism, very high anxiety and a strong need for predictable routines, he struggled even more than most of us to cope with the sudden change and loss: of college, his regular weekly activites, and all face-to-face contact with his family.  He had only recently moved into supported accommodation, putting extra pressure on the staff to manage his behaviours and keep him occupied and calm.  The first lockdown had been unbelievably stressful.

 We’d discovered Flute Theatre whilst Tim was still at Queensmill School for Autism, and seen first hand the astonishing impact of the sessions on Tim’s mood, emotional regulation and ability to interact with the actors physically, verbally and emotionally.  It seemed almost too good to be true when Kelly got in touch, offering Tim weekly online sessions with Flute.  I had thought at 22 he would be considered too old, besides which he had no laptop or experience of working with others online.  With his high levels of distractibility and anxiety, it was hard to see how it would work.  However, it was wonderful for me to know that Kelly hadn’t forgotten him and was aware of what a tough time this must be for him and the family.

 Flute not only arranged for a laptop to be delivered to Tim’s house, they also set up an induction session for the staff and arranged for me to be sent a link for Tim’s family to observe his sessions.

I hadn’t realised that not one but six talented young actors would be devoting an hour each week to working with him online, taking turns to gradually draw him into playing and relating differently with each of them through the beautiful poetry, rhythm and music of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It’s hard to describe to a parent of a non-autistic child, how extraordinary it feels to see Tim focussed, happy and completely involved for a full hour.  As I’ve noticed before with Flute workshops, his body language and tone of voice become noticeably calmer during the sessions, and the most exciting thing for me has been seeing how willing and responsive he has become to trying new things and switching between different roles.

 One of the things I think Tim enjoys most, and what makes this different from anything else he does, is the way he feels understood and embraced for who he is – which helps to build the trust and connection.  For instance, having discovered his love of regional accents, each actor started to build different accents into their characters, which completely delighted him.  Kelly has also incorporated his love of ABBA songs, and each session now rounds off with a fantastic disco moment with the whole cast (who dress up specially each week), Tim and his family having a boogie.  It honestly makes our weekend.  Seeing Tim work with Flute each week has been one of the brightest aspects of the entire pandemic.  We are so grateful.

Francesca, Tim’s mum

 

By this point, it almost feels like Tim is a member of the Flute Theatre company, rather than a participant. The level of playfulness and energy that he brings to every performance is completely extraordinary. It’s been amazing to have had the time to get to know this young man, and to learn his needs and his interests. I’ve never met someone with a better ear for accents, and the experience of doing a show for someone with that level of playfulness makes all of us as a company raise our game to match him. Tim teaches us to commit, and to approach the work with the same spirit of play. In short, Tim makes us better actors.

It’s also totally fascinating to witness Tim’s really high level of engagement with the work. For someone who can mimic to perfection, there could be an expectation for the work to drop into echoing or empty repetition. What’s extraordinary about Tim is that when he repeats the lines of the play, it is with total, true commitment and integrity. The words become his own as he speaks them. Which is hugely rewarding for us from an actor’s perspective.

-Oliver McLellan, Actor-