ORLANDO – The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and runs through May 29. This year the nearly three-week long festival will feature the largest line-up of shows in its history.
One of the shows is coming courtesy of Kentucky, the home of artist Cody Clark. The magician and advocate for autism rights will be performing his one-man show “Cody Clark: A Different Way of Thinking” at Fringe, using the arts of magic, humor and storytelling to create a first-person account of living with autism.
As Cody noted, living with autism had enabled him to see the world differently, and he uses magic to illustrate this to his audiences. The magic allows him to place audiences into his life story, from birth to his recent graduation from the University of Louisville.
Freeline Media reached out to Cody, who has been performing magic for twelve years, to ask him about the show, and about how he uses magic to spread his message of acceptance of people living with autism.
Freeline Media: Tell us about how you came to create this show, mixing magic and comedy around the theme of autism.
Cody Clark: I’ve been a magician since the age of 11 and up until I was 20. My routines were more or less traditional comedy magic. Getting stage time on the Midwest’s monthly magic show circuit (Derby City Magic here at home, Indy Magic Monthly in Indianapolis, and Magic Chicago) helped me develop my comedic timing, improv, and script writing skills. But as I got older, my then-traditional style of magic no longer suited me and a festival in Louisville called the Slant Culture Theatre Festival rejected my show for not being unique enough. So I decided to write a show for the next festival that would be unique, and since the most unique thing about me is my autism, I centered my script around it. Telling a birth to present day story about growing up on the autism spectrum gave me a convenient through-line to hang my magic routines on and a sense of an advancing plot not present in most magic shows. And with my show being about my life, I could make my magic more than just stunts and into the profound emotional moments that magic is truly meant to be. I was glad to find that. Not only did the Slant Culture Festival accept my show in their 2014 festival, but it was so well-received that I was led to the Fringe festival circuit. Orlando Fringe will be my ninth fringe festival with this show.
FM: Autism is a heavy subject for some. What inspired you to create this show.
Cody: Initially, it was to make sure that the Slant Culture Theatre Festival accepted my application that next year. But as I wrote the script, I found that combining my thoughts on life with magic routines was an effective way of showing my neurotypical (non-autistic) audiences how my autistic brain perceives life differently. And as I promoted my show, the amount of people that came from local autism organizations promoting my show showed me how badly needed more autistic pop culture heroes are. All our community has is Temple Grandin currently and as awesome as she is — she can’t do it all herself! We need more autistic people sharing their own stories, inspiring children and adults with autism to simply be themselves, and showing “neurotypicals” that autism is nothing to be scared of, but rather a fundamental part of humanity that should be embraced. So over time, I’ve evolved my show and promotional strategy to step into the role of being a hero for the autism community.
FM: We’ve seen a lot of Fringe shows that mix magic and humor. What do you think makes those two work so well?
Cody: Magic effects lend themselves well to good scripting. They give you a conflict to resolve and it’s all up to the performer/writer’s imagination as to how they decide to get themselves/their audiences to the conclusion. Magic is also one of the most audience-participatory of the theatrical art forms, whether it’s the entire audience shouting magic words at once or participants being asked to come up on stage. Magicians get to develop a direct relationship with their audiences in a way most “fourth-wall” plays don’t, so this relationship often becomes the basis for hilarious comedy.
FM: Solo shows are very popular at Fringe. What are the challenges, and rewards, of being a one-man theatrical band?
Cody: Being a solo-show means I don’t have to rely on other people to care as much about the production as I do. As long as I practice and promote my show beforehand, I can feel confident that my performances will go well. And it doesn’t hurt that I don’t have to split my paycheck with an entire cast. I also have the flexibility to apply for as many fringes as possible and even return to cities to do encore runs at small theaters. As far as promoting, whether being a solo show is an advantage or disadvantage depends on that particular Fringe. Certain Fringe festival core audiences love solo shows and flock to them while others prefer traditional theatrical productions and avoid solo shows. And regardless of the particular Fringe, while being the sole personality behind my show allows me to easily arrange press and effectively do on-site promoting, the productions with multiple cast members have the advantage of having more people with a stake in advocating for the show.
FM: You’re from Kentucky. How has Orlando been treating you so far?
Cody: Orlando has treated me great so far. I’ve gotten a lot of responses to my press release and the local magic community — which, due to this being a tourist town, is quite large — has been generous with helping me promote. In Orlando’s case, your Fringe being the largest and oldest American Fringe has made my job easier since everyone I contact knows what Fringe is!
Cody’s show will be performed in the White venue, in the Junior Achievement Center on 2121 Camden Road. The show times are:
* Thursday, May 18 at 7:15 p.m.
* Saturday, May 20 at 12:30 p.m.
* Sunday, May 21 at 2:30 p.m.
* Thursday, May 25 at 5:30 p.m.
* Saturday, May 27 at 1 p.m.
* Sunday, May 28 at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased at Orlando Fringe or at the door.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Koby’s New Home”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.