He Unpacked the Bag
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  Many of you know that I have an 18 year-old son, Andy, who has severe autism – it was the subject of my play Falling, which premiered last August here at Mustard Seed Theatre.

Andy plans his life. Far in advance. He has 8 stacks of 8 videos each, and not only can he tell you the names of all the movies in each stack (in order from top to bottom) but he can tell you on which day he is planning to watch them.

See, life is pretty scary when your brain is wired like his – so knowing what’s ahead is a comfort.

During the week, when he goes to his summer program, he takes 2 DVD’s and 2 videos with him. The stacks of 8 videos are for the weekend, or special days when there’s no other activity.

So imagine my dismay when I came down last Tuesday morning to find that he’d packed his bag with 8 videos and was ready to embark on a “special day” outing. I assured him that it was Summer Program day, and he gently walked me to the calendar, where I saw what had happened. I had written “Summer Program” on Monday and then drawn an arrow pointing through the days until Friday. It was perfectly clear to me, of course, but Andy interpreted it to mean that he only went to the summer program on Monday.

When I explained to him what had happened, and wrote “Summer Program” on Tuesday, he took a pen and crossed it out. (“No fair changing the rules,” I imagined him thinking.) He was getting agitated, and my husband Steve and I began to gear ourselves up for an aggressive incident. I took him to his room, wrote out a note explaining the schedule for the week, handed it to him, and said “Read that and think about it. I’ll be outside the door.”

I closed the door. Steve and I braced ourselves for the screams that would start, indicating his frustration and an explosive meltdown.

It was quiet.

After a minute or so of quiet, there came a small knock on the door. We jumped.

“Mom will open the door,” Andy said.

“Yes I will,” I replied. “And then what will you do?”

“Andy will go to Summer Program.”

Suspicious looks were exchanged. “Is he setting us up … we’ll open the door and he’ll come out swinging?”

“Andy, how do you feel about going to Summer Program,” I asked cautiously.


I opened the door. A smiling face greeted me. He walked down the stairs and went to his bag packed with the 8 videos.

He unpacked the bag.

He UNPACKED the bag.

(Here is where those of you who know a person with autism are doing your own amazed happy dance, saying, “He unpacked the bag? He unpacked the bag!”)

He repacked for Summer Program. Where he went and had a great day.

! ! !

Most parents watch for milestones like going to Kindergarten, getting a driver’s license.

Extreme Parents (like us) watch for the day he “unpacks the bag.” He met an obstacle in his path, and instead of doing all in his power to destroy the obstacle, he changed his path.

And do I know why? Maybe the new medication that has helped him focus and think more clearly? Maybe the raging hormones of his early teens are waning? Maybe it was just time for the brain to mature that little bit more?

So after days of simply being excited about this amazing event (or non-event, if you think of it a certain way), I began to realize that there’s a lesson for me in all of this.

To unpack my bag. Metaphorically.

It’s the lesson Tami finally learned in FALLING – that sometimes you have to let go. Of the plan. Of the dream. Of the battle for control.

Sometimes I just need to unpack and repack and face the new plan with a smile.

Mustardseed Blog

So This Is A Thing That's Happening Now

by Shualee Cook

I just checked my computer for verification, and it tells me that I created the document that eventually became An Invitation Out on Wednesday, December 9th, 2009. Which means I've been working on this script in some form or other for a little over five years now, hoping that one day it would fully exist. See, just like a tadpole is not yet a frog, a script is not yet a play. There is still more growing to do, a few more appendages to acquire. You can dot the last i, type out the final stage direction, but you didn't write those words to be read. You wrote them to be seen and heard, and for that you need other people.

Deanna Jent read one of the earliest drafts of my script back in 2011. At the time, it was precisely one bazillion and eight pages long, and full of a great many ideas that were quite interesting in theory, but pretty much a mess in practice. Yet even in that state, she saw something in the sprawl, believed in it, and decided to take a chance on me.

In the summer of 2013, I had been working on a new draft, trying to solve its very problematic ending, but I'd essentially been working in a vacuum, and had reached the end of where I could take the script alone in a room by myself. And lo and behold, an email from Deanna showed up in my inbox. She was teaching a playwriting seminar, and had someone drop out at the last minute. Would I possibly be interested in filling the empty slot, continuing to work on the play in the company of other playwrights? 8 weeks later, I walked out of that classroom with a completely new ending and a tighter focus on what the story was. Deanna said she might be interested in producing it for Mustard Seed Theatre if I'd be open to making some more revisions. I kept at it, and in early 2014, I got the official good news: the play I'd been working to see onstage for what seemed like ages would be a part of Mustard Seed's 2014/2015 season. At the very end of it. So, four years of waiting down, one to go.

For most of the last year, this upcoming production hasn't seemed quite real. I'd spent so much time thinking about that it became more of a fuzzy idea that people would ask me about occasionally, a theory rather than a tangible fact. But then, early this February, we had the first cast read-thru. I entered the theater, and there it was - the tables pushed together with clusters of chairs around it, the stack of scripts, the pencils, the cups of coffee - all the signs of a rehearsal process. Suddenly, there were tech people talking about how on earth to make the things I'd written actually work, the sounds of actors chatting in the lobby. Then Nicole came in - an actor and good friend who's been in both of the other shows of mine that have been performed so far. On the way to her seat, she gave me a huge hug, and just like that, it didn't seem like only a script anymore. A play was coming together. With my arms around her, it finally flashed through my mind. "So this is a thing that is happening now."

March 24th was our first rehearsal. Before the actors arrived, Maggy and Katie - our S.M. and A.D. - snuck me into the theater where our crew were already hard at work on the set. It seemed gigantic. Even in pieces, it was already grander than I had imagined. I just stood there and stared at it all until Maggy asked me what I thought, bringing me back to lucidity. All I could stutter out was "All of this is here because of something I wrote down on a piece of paper once." The implications of that seemed enormous, but Maggy and Katie just smiled.

A script is not yet a play. You can dot the last i, type out the final stage direction, but it doesn't become real until other people pour in their talents, their time, their passion even when it's very difficult work. "This is a thing that is happening now." But it doesn't happen alone.


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