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Asheville Teen Brings Personal Experience to a Stage Role Focusing on Autism

Magnetic Theatre

As Asheville’s Magnetic Theatre prepares to open its new show, 13-year-old Cory Silver has two concerns.

“Of course my main goal is to pull it off,” he said. “But my second goal is definitely to not offend anybody.”

Silver is a middle schooler portraying a middle schooler with autism—the focal point of the play titled “Special Needs.” The play begins a three-weekend run Sept. 21.

“I feel like a lot of Asperger’s Syndrome and many mental illnesses are made fun of in a lot of different media and different movies,” he said. “The people I do know who suffer from Asperger’s, I definitely look at their traits and what they do, and I definitely want to make it at least spot on.”

Silver attends Asheville’s Omega Middle School, but Asheville Performing Arts Academy is his training ground as an actor and musician. He’s learning to play guitar, drums and piano by playing songs from the Beatles, Grateful Dead and other classic rock bands.

Silver auditioned for “Special Needs” knowing little beyond his character’s autism. Silver thought he could perhaps relate: He has been diagnosed with executive functioning deficit.

“Which essentially means I am not as organized as maybe other people are and also trouble focusing, as well,” he said.

Katie Jones, the show’s director and now the Magnetic Theatre’s co-artistic director, has worked with her young actor to overcome his concerns about potentially offending audience members.

“There’s some stage directions in there from the playwright (Madelyn Sergel), who has a son with autism, so some of those behaviors are coming from somebody who’s experienced it,” Jones said. “We talked a lot about the logic of Pierce (Silver’s character) and how he’s feeling in certain moments, how when he’s nervous, his behaviors will increase, and when he’s comfortable, his behaviors will decrease.”

Silver’s own condition both lends well to his portrayal of his the character and, at times, can present small challenges.

“In one of our early rehearsals, Cory, we were doing a scene, and he just walked away, and I was like 'Hey, what are you doing? And he was like 'I’m going to get a drink of water.' And I had to say ‘We’re rehearsing a scene and then we’ll have a break, and you can do all the things you need to do.’”

This is a busy time for Silver. His band from the Asheville Performing Arts’ Rock Academy just performed at the Orange Peel, and by the time the play closes, “Special Needs” will have taken up nearly three months of his time.

“I’ve heard a lot of scary stuff of how the acting world is competitive,” Silver said. “But other than music, yeah, I think it’s something I’d like to pursue.”

Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.
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