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McNally Smith ’09 Graduate Scores Music for Acclaimed Play about Autism

A stirring play about the challenges of raising a child with autism features original music by former McNally Smith College of Music student Jaron Paige. In “Autistic License,” playwright Stacey Dinner-Levin chronicles her family’s journey to raise a son with autism, from the impact the disability has had on her marriage and family to the best and the worst behavior of people who encounter her son in the outside world. It is being staged in early November (see below for dates) by the blank slate theater company at the Gremlin Theater (2400 University Ave. West, just east of Highway 280 and Raymond Avenue) in St. Paul from November 5-15. “Autistic License” was named one of the “10 Best Plays of 2007” by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

As the story unfolds, Dinner-Levin’s character gains an understanding and appreciation of her son’s uniqueness, as well as greater depth as a woman and mother. And while nothing can prepare a parent for a child’s diagnosis with a disability, the play has much to offer families who have children with autism —and those who don’t. This production also carries some unique, real-life twists: It will be presented by an all-youth cast and the award-winning blank slate theatre, including Dinner-Levin’s sons, seasoned actors Geordy and Spencer Levin. Geordy — now 20 years old and the subject of the play — will portray himself.

“Seeing Geordy in rehearsals has been the most inspiring part of composing the music for this play,” Jaron says, who is composing the work using strings and piano on a MIDI. “The director, Adam Arnold, wanted something more orchestral and less modern or electronic-sounding and that’s we he’s getting. I’ve been listening to a lot of Philip Glass recently, so I would describe the piece as being more minimalistic, with some tension and mystery woven in, which is what the director was looking for.”

This is Paige’s first music composed for theater, which he says, “has been a good challenge.” He met the director over a year ago and eventually started helping out at the theater. He later played in a Variety act there and then in the pit as one of the musicians for a blank slate production of “Hair.” When Arnold approached him about writing for the play, he jumped at the chance. Paige’s score for the play comes less than year after graduating from McNally Smith in December of 2009 with a B.M. in Music Composition and Songwriting.

The blank slate theatre artists featured include: Nikki Akingbasote, Dena
Coffman, Madeleine Linsk, Julia Mandler, Max Mars, Ethan Nienaber, Lizzy Potts,
Malcolm Roach and Mary Rosen. Lighting design is by Miles Bard.

If you’re head to the production, free parking is available for patrons in the US Bank lot diagonally across University Avenue from the Gremlin Theater. Ticket prices are $12 for students and seniors and $15 for adults. Blank slate theatre does not accept ticket reservations. Patrons may purchase tickets at the door with cash or check.

Show times are:

• Friday, Nov. 5 @ 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Nov. 6 @ 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
• Friday, Nov. 12 @ 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Nov. 13 @ 7:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Nov. 14 @ 2 p.m.
• Monday. Nov. 15 @ 7:30 p.m.

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