Dreaming up The Puzzle, from Juliette Dunn

(Produced with funding from the Todd B. and Barbara C. Hilsee Foundation, 1812 Productions is a proud host of this workshop process for Juliette Dunn's play, The Puzzle, which seeks to raise autism awareness, understanding and acceptance.)

When I first began dreaming up The Puzzle, my son was very young.  I was living in a bizarre world of unusual behaviors that became my norm, and aside from the pain and worry and sadness, there was joy and laughter.  It felt like I was living in some absurd play that constantly swung between that pain and laughter.  There were so many stories of children 'coming out of autism' and recovering completely. I believed that we would be able to bring our son out of his autism, too.  I wanted to document this journey in a play about solving a puzzle from the perspective of a boy with autism.

Two things happened. One: I never got my "throw down the crutches and walk" miracle that I had dreamed of. And, two, I realized I could not justifiably tell the story of a person with autism.  I had no idea what was truly going on in his head.  What I could do was tell the story from the perspective of the parent, and the struggle along the journey to peace and acceptance, and how that struggle makes fools of us.

I hope to share this story with everyone, whether they know or love a person with autism or not.  I hope that it will speak universal truths about our struggles to get what we think will make us happy.  However, I would also love this piece to serve as a place for support and bonding for parents, teachers, and caregivers of those on the spectrum.  I hope it can become a vehicle for conversation, insight and comradery.

Because the lead characters in this play are clowns, I really wanted to bring in someone who could expertly capture the delicate balance between the world of the clown and the world of autism. I decided to aim as high as I could and asked international clown, David Shiner, if he would workshop my play here in Philadelphia.  Much to my delight and surprise, he agreed, and with the support of the wonderful Todd B. and Barbara C. Hilsee Foundation, we were able to make it happen.  My hopes for this week are to see how the clown work can help strengthen and simplify the story, as well as the relationship between the main characters. Every aspect of this journey has been thrilling and I am so grateful for this experience and opportunity.

(A staged reading of The Puzzle, followed by a talk-back and reception, will take place on Saturday, January 13th at 7pm at Arden Theater's Bob and Selma Horan Studio Theater, at the Hamilton Family Arts Center, 62 N. 2nd St. Seating is limited. Complimentary tickets can be secured HERE.)

Juliette Dunn with her son, Colin.

Juliette Dunn with her son, Colin.