213 Things About Me – a journey through the life of a woman with Autism

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213 Things About Me is a theatre piece based on the real life story of Cate – a female singer songwriter diagnosed with Asperger’s in adult life, following her triumphs and the difficulties she faced, before her suicide at the tender age of 36. Documentary maker and disabled writer Richard Butchins talks to DAO about his motivation for making the single-hander, acted by Rosa Hoskins, due to open at the Battersea Arts Centre on 9th May 2018.

Photo of a young woman on stage surrounded by musical instruments

Rosa Hoskins plays Cate in 213 Things About Me. Photo © Richard Butchins

213 Things About Me began life as an Unlimited funded research and development project and was exhibited as a film installation in 2015. In it’s most recent incarnation Richard Butchins has worked with the Battersea Arts Centre to turn the story of his friend Cate and the list of 213 traits she wrote, describing herself, into a 60 minute theatre production.

“In the first instance I have to thank Hassan Mahamdallie for helping me get the show on the road. He advised me to develop a relationship with a venue – in order to support an Arts Council England funding application. The BAC seemed the natural home for work like this – it is adventurous and committed to presenting work around multiformity (I hate the word ‘diversity’) and difference.”

“So I approached them and they were receptive to the concept and agreed to give me space and time to develop the work. After some scratch performances last year, they wanted to try this short run as a more full production and so here we are.”

“I hadn’t initially intended to create a performance piece, although I always thought the work could lend itself to some kind of performance. It developed as I looked at Cate’s writing and listened to her singing and song-writing. I thought – there is so much here to say about being an adult with a late diagnosis of ASC, and how the condition is so deeply misunderstood by the NT world (Neurotypical – the designation for “normal”) that I decided to write something. As I did it became clear it should be a one woman monologue created from both Cate’s writing and my own. The character became a synthesis of her and me. Quite apt really.”

“After Cate was first diagnosed with Aspergers we were having a conversation and I asked her to write a list of her traits. Her verbatim ideas and thoughts about being diagnosed with ASC are critical to the work, but I have merged them with my own feelings, thoughts and experiences to create a fictional character.”

“Please remember all fictional characters are also real. Our conversations make up a large part of the work but I have had to translate them into the kind of language regular people will understand or you’d get lost in a bizarre ASC landscape – You still do on occasion. The list, however, is completely hers – my list would only be about 3 things long – and the songs, they are her, she wrote beautiful songs and some are in the performance as well.”

“I think that what has been missed when the media turns to representing the lives of people with ASD is just how very difficult and painful life can be and is for people at all points on the spectrum. There’s been plenty of stuff on TV that turns ASC into entertainment – and I think, lets stop making ourselves objects of entertainment or freakish skill. People with autism, especially women have very high suicide rates – let’s talk about that.”

“I am not a theatre practitioner as such, and I am not so very wise about the genre. 213 Things About Me is firmly rooted in the Ionesco, Beckett, Brecht tradition but I might be wrong and it absolutely comes from a personal space. The essential thing is that I want it to communicate clearly and easily to other people. I’m not trying to make ‘difficult” work just for the sake of it – that’s too easy – this is harder. It’s funny and sad, confusing and composed all at once, because that’s what Cate was like.”

“I am glad to have Rosa Hoskins on board, acting the piece. Rosa has been attached to this from the start. She voiced the short film that made up part of the installation and I wanted to disguise the true identity of Cate; so I have made her into someone else. Also Rosa is a fine actor with a lot of personal experience around people with ASC. I suppose I wrote it with Rosa in mind and she has a great singing voice, which does justice to Cate’s songs.”

“It’s a slow business this theatre lark, but I hope to do more performances of 213 Things. I am primarily a filmmaker and would ultimately like to make a film/ drama about this combined with other aspects of autism. But I hope to tour the work and then what? Oh yeah… lets go to the National Theatre… LOL. But really I just want people to come and watch this work so please buy a ticket, you will not regret the purchase.”

213 THINGS ABOUT ME is playing at Battersea Arts Centre from 9 – 12 May, 8pm
Price: £12.50, £10 concs.
Please click on this link to book directly with the theatre.