Invisible Animal is inspired by writer and actor Tom Manning’s experiences of growing up autistic in a neurotypical world and facing up to his internalised ableism. We spoken with him about the project.
Tell us how Invisible Animal started?
So back in 2019 I had a mentor, chap called Matt Woodhead who now works at The National Theatre. Gorgeous human being. We were talking about how Autistic actors weren’t cast to play Autistics, and that I never felt seen in anything that had an Autistic character. He said “why not write something you could see yourself in.” Next thing I knew I had Arts Council funding to R&D the 1st draft.
What was the process of getting to the Omnibus Theatre?
Well to start with it was that R&D, asking the question ‘what kind of show did I, as an Autistic, want to make that made me feel seen and heard?’ Then that evolved to ‘what didn’t I want to show people?’, what about my being Autistic was I afraid to show that then we must must must show. After which we got a new draft of the script sorted, sent out show packets, got dates from Omnibus Theatre, got more Arts Council funding and here we are.
What are the challenges and the best parts of creating a solo show?
The really great thing about developing this show was the realisation that it is not really a solo show; we have multiple designers, a dramaturg, a production manager and everyone else you could think of to make a killer show. The hard bit is knowing that all these people need you to be the best writer and performer for them, not just for you.
Why did you want to write and perform it and why now?
It’s very interesting, writing a thing based off your life. You write what you know, of course but this is taking it to another level. I said before I had never seen my Autistic experience on screen or in theatre, but I think the big bit of it is I hadn’t seen someone go through the process of hiding their autism and then getting to the point of declaring to the world I am Autistic. This is something I have gone through, this is something I know others are struggling with right now. And if telling this story helps one person then the years of work to get here is worth it.
The team working with you on the show with you is majority neurodivergent and disabled, tell us about why that is important to you and the show
During the 1st R&D, we discovered that I was trying to present all my ideas in a very neurotypical voice, which for a show that’s supposed to be enabling the Autistic voice is “no bueno”. So I went “okay, let’s get more Autistics involved” because I can’t do this solo bolo. That’s the thing that making this show has shown me over & over, I am not alone.
What would you like the audience to take away from the show?
You are not alone.
Invisible Animal is playing at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham from 17th October – 4th November. Link here for tickets