To get to Amigo Family Counseling, I walked down beige hallways on the first floor of a building in a ho-hum Columbus, Ohio, office park a short walk from a Bob Evans restaurant.
The center’s clinical director, Dr. Emilio Amigo, waved at me once I got inside. Behind a closed door I heard the voices of his clients — autistic young adults from mostly working- and middle-class central Ohio families — boisterously chatting about their Friday night plans.
I was there to talk about “How to Dance in Ohio,” a new Broadway musical that features Dr. Amigo and seven of his autistic clients as characters. The show — pop in score and sensibility — is based on Alexandra Shiva’s 2015 documentary, which follows Dr. Amigo and many more of his clients as they navigate life and eagerly, but anxiously, prepare for a spring formal. (The musical is in previews at the Belasco Theater in Manhattan, where it is scheduled to open on Dec. 10. The documentary is on Max.)
In a Broadway first, openly autistic actors are playing the autistic characters, in this case seven. All those actors are making their Broadway debuts. (Non-autistic actors portray other people, including Dr. Amigo, played by Caesar Samayoa.) Ashley Wool, who plays Jessica, hopes the casting puts to rest a misconception about autistic actors: That if there are any, they must be less talented or expressive.
Openly autistic actors performing onstage is not common, but it’s also not new. In 2017 at Syracuse Stage, the autistic actor Mickey Rowe played the autistic teenager at the center of the Tony Award-winning play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”But that was an exception. Of the people I spoke with, the best grade anyone gave Broadway when it came to autism and accessibility was a D+.
“How to Dance in Ohio” is aiming for an A. The production hired Ava Xiao-Lin Rigelhaupt, who is on the autism spectrum, as its autistic creative consultant to make sure the script is authentic about autism and that rehearsal rooms are accessible, among other concerns. The production is working on several front-of-house accessibility efforts, including cool-down spaces. And while the production is sensory friendly, the T.D.F. performance in January will offer further accommodations, like keeping on the house lights during the performance.