Getting creative whilst raising people's understanding of autism
Jenna and Charley were paired up during lockdown as phone buddies. They clicked immediately and spent two months chatting together on a weekly basis. They had many common interests and both were connected to Converge, a community arts programme run through York St John, supporting all kinds of people to develop new skills.
In her mid-forties, Charley had only in the last year been diagnosed with having autism. Although she had suspected it herself for some time, the diagnosis found her choosing to turn her life around and determined to better other people’s understanding of the condition.
In September, Jenna and Charley became Move Mates – they moved from their phone friendship to becoming walking buddies, discovering gorgeous walks through New Earswick together.
Charley really opened up to Jenna. She talked in a positive away about how she wanted to find a better place to live and improve her life, moving on from her diagnosis.
“Charley has really taught me a thing or two about resilience and positivity.“
On these walks Charley started sharing some of her poetry with Jenna, and as a fellow writer, Jenna was touched by how eloquently she wrote and how fascinating it was reading about her experience of Autism, and the pandemic, in such a way.
Jenna works in the Creative Arts, and some of her theatre students are austistic, so walking alongside Charley was not an unknown to her, but she was particularly impressed with how Charley had coped, and how she used the Arts to express herself.
When Jenna heard about a mini-commission looking to find voices of self discovery during the pandemic, she realised Charley’s story was something that might work for it. The commission, by the Arts Collective ‘Next Door But One’, involves writing a 10 minute monologue to be passed on to a director and an actor, to then be produced and performed in January 2021 at Gillygate Pub.
Jenna talked to Charley about it and the decision was made that this was something they could co-write together. Jenna being responsible for the admin side; applying for the commission, attending meetings, and shaping the writing. Charley creating the character they have called Kelly, the story around Kelly talking to her befriender via Zoom during the pandemic and then bringing in the little insights; the worst and best days, the funny moments and the poignant discoveries. Through the monologue, Charley wants to highlight how someone with Autism has navigated the pandemic.
Just this week, the pair have been announced as one of five writers that have been accepted for the commission.
Jenna realises that she could not have applied for the commission without the pairing with Charley. Her experience is something people should hear about.
Jenna stresses that the friendship between Charley and her is very much a two way thing.
“Her drive and sense of humour really cheers me up!“
The pair now meet weekly for a walk, where they shape Kelly’s character, thinking through all aspects of her, like the music she listens to and how any sensory overload might affect her. They also have a weekly phone call to plan.
Charley writes explosively when the mood takes her and Jenna then interprets that into the script.
Although Jenna has worked with people on the spectrum for many years, she found the Autism Training she recently attended through Move the Masses really useful.
“They [National Autism Society] packaged up the main points so well, particularly the language used. And it was very interesting to the see the spectrum as a circle, rather than a line“