Q: Tell us a little about "Keep the Change."
A: Keep the Change is a romantic comedy about a young couple on the autistic spectrum who struggle to connect and slowly fall in love. The movie starts off with David being legally required to attend a support group for adults with various developmental disabilities. David does not want to be there because he strongly believes that he does not belong with others who are not "normal." However, then David meets my character, Sarah, whose optimism and upbeat personality get on his nerves at first. Nevertheless, Sarah and David take a trip to the Brooklyn Bridge as a "homework assignment." Despite their differences, David and Sarah start to fall in love. As their relationship progresses, Sarah grows more self-confident and persuades David to accept their differences. What makes the movie really special is that people like me on the autistic spectrum had this opportunity to play characters with developmental disabilities as well as or better than neurotypical actors.
Q: We'd also love to know a little about yourself and your background.
A: I am 26 years old and grew up in Manhattan with my twin brother, Matthew, who now lives in Los Angeles. When I was 7 years old, a music teacher told my parents that I had perfect pitch and an ear for music. When I was 10 and my behavior improved sufficiently, I started taking private voice lessons and performing in show cases and in various school and camp musicals. When I went to Landmark College I continued to perform in plays and also joined the choral group. After getting my Associates Degree at Landmark, I transferred to Pace University where I graduated cum laude in 2014.
Q: How did you become involved with the film?
A: It started off as a wonderful accident. I met Rachel Israel, the writer and director, at the JCC, where she was teaching film club to adults with various disabilities. She asked me to audition for the short version of Keep the Change. Rachel was making the short movie as her thesis film at Columbia University and had auditioned 100 mainstream actresses for the part of Sarah but she was not satisfied. I guess she loved what she saw because she cast me for the part.
Q: What was it like working on the film?
A: Working on the film was an awesome experience because I learned a lot about what it's like to work on a film set. Rachel's support and guidance really encouraged me to believe in myself and become a more professional performer. Even though the shooting process involved long, tiring hours and very hard work, I learned to love to perform, and it's something I would love to continue pursuing. I now feel more comfortable and confident in myself to go on auditions and pull myself out of my comfort zone.
Q: What would you like for people to take away from watching the film?
A: I really hope everyone enjoys watching the movie and understands the important message. The movie is trying to convey that people on the spectrum are just as interested in romantic relationships and intimacy as anyone else. Even though we might struggle in social situations, we want to show the world that we have a voice, and we want to be heard and appreciated. Also, we hope that after seeing this movie, the audience will recognize that we are all humans and individuals who are worthy of respect. And I hope that the entertainment industry will start to offer more actors with disabilities the opportunity to play characters like themselves instead of giving those roles to neurotypical actors.
Q: Do you have any advice for other adults on the spectrum who would like to be involved in acting or performance?
A: For others on the spectrum who would like to be involved in acting and performing, my best advice is to go on auditions and seek out performance opportunities that appeal to them. They can also join theater groups for people with learning disabilities like me. I'm a member of DreamStreet Theater company and E.P.I.C.Players, where I work on improving my skills and accomplishing my goals. These groups provide me with various performance opportunities and training. At E.P.I.C. I take classes on scene study, audition prep, improvisation and resume writing.
Q: What are your upcoming projects and/or future goals?
A: My next performance will be singing in the "E.P.I.C 4 Autism" fundraiser cabaret on Tuesday, April 25th at the Kraine Theater. My other upcoming projects are to play Glinda in DreamStreet's play, The Wicked and The Wonderful. I'm also going to play the part of Van's sister in a dark comedy, Dog Sees God for E.P.I.C. Players. But what I'm looking forward to most is playing the part of Lucy in You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown because I'll have the chance to do a mix and match of both singing and acting while being bossy and funny. I'm hoping that Keep the Change gets wonderful reviews at the Tribeca film festival and ends up in multiple movie theaters. I also hope to get a casting agent to help me find new roles and performance opportunities in both film and TV.
Q: Where can people go to learn more information about the film?
A: They can go to the Tribeca website even though all the screenings are sold out. It will be really hard to find out more information about the film because no one has seen it yet except the director, crew and film festival committee. If people want to get a sense of what Keep the Change is about, they should check out the15 minute short movie on line. The short film gives people a taste of what they are going to see in the feature length film.
Editor's Note: You can also find "Keep the Change" on Facebook. Please note that the short film does contain some adult language.