UNCW Department of Theatre Presents Shakespeare and Autism Performances of “The Tempest” July 21-23

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

For children and young adults on the autism spectrum, a unique opportunity awaits them this month at UNC Wilmington. The Department of Theatre will present an adaptation of “The Tempest” on July 21-23 in the Cultural Arts Building at 3 p.m.   

In this unique, immersive experience, Shakespeare text and storytelling are used to provide children and young adults an opportunity to gain social and cognitive skills while playing and interacting with the rhythms of Shakespearean verse. 

“For those who have never experienced Shakespeare and Autism, the performance is an exciting introduction,” said Robin Post, Department of Theatre professor. “The ultimate goal is for the participants and their family members and caregivers to play, to have fun and to feel a connection to each other as they create the story alongside the actors.”  

Post has been teaching about the connection between Shakespeare and autism since arriving at UNCW in 2016. During her previous tenure at The Ohio State University, she was introduced to the Hunter Heartbeat Method, a distinctive, drama-based methodology founded by Kelly Hunter, a British actress and then-actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company.  

The Hunter Heartbeat Method, also known as Shakespeare and Autism, aims to release communicative blocks experienced by those with autism, including those who are non-verbal, to assist with communication, social interaction and recognition of facial expressions, to name a few. While at Ohio State, Post collaborated with fellow researchers Marc Tasse and Maggie Mehling and directed a research study on the efficacy of the Hunter Heartbeat Method. 

“The Tempest,” directed by Post, promotes interaction between the child participants and the professional and UNCW student actors through games such as Shakespeare’s Heartbeat Hello and Caliban’s Cramps. The games are interspersed throughout the storytelling and music as the play progresses.  

Post has also led workshops in Shakespeare and Autism with UNCW students at the Autism Society of North Carolina and Oasis NC, two local organizations that work exclusively with children with autism. 

“There aren’t often a lot of opportunities for children on the spectrum to be involved in something like this,” Post said. “Unlike traditional performances, this immersive experience gives the kids not only the freedom to move around, to talk and to make noise but also the freedom to perform in a professional production while it’s occurring. It’s also an effort to embrace all levels of ability and to meet children where they are.” 

Funding for the upcoming performances is provided by the Josephine S. Leiser Foundation, a South Florida-based charitable nonprofit that supports community organizations and education institutions, as well as cultural and healthcare initiatives in North Carolina and Florida. 

“This production would not have been possible without the generous donation of the JSL Foundation,” said Post. “I want to acknowledge and express our deep gratitude for their support.” 

For more information and tickets, call director Robin Post at 910.962.7690. The three performances are free and open to children and young adults, ages 7 and up, and their caregivers in the Wilmington community. Reservations are required.  

-- Krissy Vick