As Autism Awareness Month draws to a close, we're delighted to feature this post written by Virginia Campbell and Regina Carmody together with Tzvi, a young man they care for who has ASD (autism spectrum disorder). They shared with us the story of what it was like for Tzvi to grow from a New Vic kid into one of The New Victory's biggest fans!
Regina Carmody, Tzvi and Virgina Campbell in 2017
When he was young, we started bringing Tzvi to puppet shows. He looked forward to them and showed an early interest in and aptitude for music (especially songs from Disney movies). We wanted to get him comfortable with larger groups, so we started looking for new theatrical experiences. When Tzvi was 9-years-old, we got tickets to Pigs, Bears and Billy Goats Gruff
at The New Victory Theater before there were designated Autism-Friendly performances. Despite his initial nerves, Tzvi was able to enjoy the show, singing and clapping whenever he liked. Everyone accepted him for who he was. That was his first step in enjoying social events. What a gift it was!
"When we went to see Pigs, Bears and Billy Goats Gruff
, we had to sit in the balcony because I was too anxious to sit in the orchestra. We went in very slowly and carefully, since I wanted to be able to leave as quickly as possible. Now I'm never scared to come to The New Victory!" Tzvi says.
Over eight years that followed, we saw over 50 shows and each one led to exposure in a new area. They made his world bigger. The shared joy of music and laughter is a natural connection to others that kids with autism can't access easily. He now sees himself as an audience member—a part of a group. Theatergoers are his tribe! In fact, Tzvi thinks everyone should join in. "Come by and say hi. Everyone's so friendly. They laugh, smile and help anyone who asks."
This community gives Tzvi a toehold into the larger world. He's learned that even though a show—and by extension the world—may be full of surprises, some things are constant: the lights dim, people perform and the audience claps. Attending New Vic shows made him curious to explore in the larger world, but if he gets nervous, we follow the rules of engagement: look, listen and hold a friend's hand if you don't know what's going on.
Tzvi has enjoyed coming to the New Vic for both family workshops and shows. He says, "There's so many activities; I love The New Victory Theater all year-round. There are so many things to do and all ages—even adults—are welcome."
He rarely gets nervous when attending shows anymore and that goes to show how much he really has grown. One of the most valuable skills Tzvi has learned since coming to the New Vic is how to cope and adjust to the changing sensory aspects he experiences in the theater. To him, it became worth it to cope with the height, sounds, lighting, physical space and crowds, but it didn't come easy. The New Victory became a safe space for him to conquer his fears and enjoy the shows. Tzvi learned to anticipate challenges and then even adjust for his own needs. At first, he would say, "Balloons fall at 4:55. Tzvi goes to the lobby." Now he'll stay for the balloons and actively take part.
WT and Tzvi at one of Tzvi's first workshops
Another valuable skill Tzvi developed over time at New Vic was self-discovery. The organized schedule allowed him to plan, but it also helped him question his own likes and needs. The schedule gave him choices, and the variety of the New Vic's content helped him grow. It got him to ask questions like: Who am I and where do I fit in? Where will I sit? (It took us years to get to the orchestra.) How do others around me act at a theater? Now he sees himself at a stage in his life when he can grow even further and strive to be like those who mentored him.
Tzvi has grown so much that a few months ago, he assisted his New Vic Teaching Artist friend, WT
, with a juggling workshop. "I loved helping the kids learn to juggle. I even got better by teaching them," Tzvi says. "Getting to take part in the juggling workshop made me feel very proud of myself. I've come so far since 2008! My favorite part of the workshop was introducing my friend WT to the kids and making all of the announcements."
Those mentors—like WT—help Tzvi experience joy. They provide a nonjudgmental place and opportunity to learn to be part of an audience, and to experience different ways to communicate—through dance or physical comedy or clowning. Bringing youth to a place where they will be accepted—where no one will stare at them, or get annoyed at their reactions—is a precious thing. Participation in New Victory shows and workshops also helped Tzvi to access his strengths within the arts. It's increased his awareness and confidence in movement, communication and music. Today, Tzvi can likely be found making announcements at a family gathering, composing a mash-up of old and new favorite songs, or dancing to whatever beat matches the event. All of these hobbies make him who he is, and are all thanks to The New Victory Theater.
Interested in Autism-Friendly performances? Keep your eyes peeled for our work with Autism Friendly Spaces during our 2017-18 Season!