Drizzle Boy plays neurodiversity for the first time in the theatre

Playwright Ryan Ennis was in his third year of drama school when he came across an article about a miracle cure for autistic children, which contained bleach.

“My reaction was mostly just sheer rage and complete bewilderment, so I kind of started doing the only thing I really knew how to do,” the 25-year-old told the AAP.

Ennis, who has autism, begins telling a story that becomes Drizzle Boy’s award-winning play.

This is the first time that a bifurcated character has been written by a neurotic playwright and portrayed by an experienced live-action actor on the main stage in Australia, according to Playhouse Queensland where the show has just begun.

“I just hope people who come and watch the show enjoy it, it’s a wild, entertaining ride through a lens audiences may not have seen before,” Ennis said.

This coming-of-age tale blends magical realism with a romantic subplot – and is described as a theatrical cold shower in the world of spooky diversity.

Enniss hoped the production would lead to more opportunities for his ilk, and stipulated in the script that an actor with live experience would play the lead.

In this production, this is Daniel R Nixon, who told AAP he felt a strong attachment to the script when he first read it.

“I just loved how he wasn’t wrapping around the edges, he was kind of rough and in your face, very upfront about it,” he said.

The 28-year-old actor said that film and television about neurodiversity are usually written and acted by neurotic people, resulting in action that is out of place or far from reality.

Nixon said his neurological difference shaped his childhood and his relationships with his family, and for years he suppressed the idea that he might be different.

“I tried so hard to just act, quote non-quote, and that was hard for me, and social interactions are still very scary and uncomfortable for me to this day.”

He believes that anyone who wants to make real theater about neurodiversity should use writers and actors with live experience as well as staging extensive consultancies, and he wants to see more state theater companies do that.

But playwright Ennis acknowledged that this approach will be more difficult for some theater companies than others, and said there will always be some tension between originality and creative license when telling stories on stage.

“We are all free to fantasize and dream, but acting is one of the most powerful things that artists have, because it gives the audience hope and inspiration,” he said.

“If you don’t use hope and inspiration responsibly, you may not take your job as seriously as you should.”

Drizzle Boy is the 2022-23 Queensland Premiere Drama Winner and is at Brisbane’s Bill Brown Theater until 28 March.

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