GBPAC commissions first play

CLINTON OLSASKY, Campus Life Editor

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A five-year journey of collaboration, exploration and discovery is about to come to fruition this weekend as the Tectonic Theater Project unveils their new play “Uncommon Sense” at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center (GBPAC). “Uncommon Sense” centers on the experiences of people on the autism spectrum and features stories from families in Iowa and right here in the Cedar Valley.

There will be two opportunities to see the play – first on Saturday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. and again on Sunday, Jan. 22, at 2 p.m.

Blake Argotsinger, associate marketing manager for the GBPAC, explained how Andy Paris and Anushka Paris-Carter, the play’s co-authors, came about writing the play.

“Back in 2012, both Andy Paris and his wife Anushka Paris-Carter came to Iowa from New York to spend a year-long residency interviewing families that have family members that are on the spectrum,” Argotsinger said. “Everyone’s experiences are different, and so they wanted to find as many different stories as possible to try to relay this into a theatrical play.”

Andy Paris discussed this process in an interview that aired on Cedar Valley radio station 93.5 The Mix on Oct. 14, 2016.

“They offered us the chance to come out here to Gallagher and do a year-long residency at the theater department at the University of Northern Iowa, working with students and also outside of the university community, introducing us to the autism community here in the Cedar Valley,” Paris said in the interview. “And both of those introductions were monumental and so special to our development.”

According to Argotsinger, “Uncommon Sense” marks the first time the GBPAC has commissioned and premiered an original play. Argotsinger explained that by commissioning the play, the GBPAC has not only provided funding, but has also supplied the space and the time necessary for a production the size of “Uncommon Sense.”

“The exciting thing for us is that before we commissioned this project, this play – this creative work – did not exist,” Argotsinger said. “And so, by commissioning it and having that collaboration, we’ve created a new piece that we’re excited [about] because we think it can change lives, change people’s perceptions and spread awareness about these social issues that are very complicated and are difficult to engage in.”

Andrew Duff, who participated in a panel discussion with UNI students last Friday, is an actor in the play who fully understands the complexities of the autism spectrum. In the aforementioned interview with 93.5 The Mix, Duff said that he was diagnosed with autism at the age of two.

“It’s something I’ve always been involved with, but I’ve only really seen my perspective of it,” Duff said in the interview. “And the joy that I’ve had working with Andy and Anushka is the ability to go beyond my perspective. That’s really the big triumph of this show – it’s showing all these different viewpoints and all these different stories because autism is so broad.”

According to Argotsinger, “Uncommon Sense” is set to start touring the country in September. Argotsinger said that Tectonic Theater Project has even invited other theaters and agents to the GBPAC who could potentially pick up the play and bring it to other places around the country.

“This has not been shown in its entirety anywhere else in the world at this point,” Argotsinger said. “This is the first time that this work is going to be seen by the public, which is a big deal.”

While no UNI students are performing in the show, several students are heavily involved in the production, serving as stage hands for the Tectonic Theater Project and the various production designers that have traveled from New York.

“UNI students have been working closely with them getting the stage prepared, doing anything that needs to be done,” Argotsinger said. “Learning and being around a production of this caliber is an incredible experience for these students.”

Complimentary tickets will be offered to all UNI students. These tickets will not count towards their two free tickets per semester at the GBPAC.

“The reason we’ve done that is we want the community to see this. This is something that challenges your perceptions,” Argotsinger said. “By seeing this play, we’ll get a look into the realities of different people that are truly in our community […] We’ll have some talk back sessions after the show, and so we’ll have a community dialogue […] We all learn, and we all become better community members by seeing and engaging in a play like this.”

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