FemFest Welcomes Ducks on the Moon

Kelley Jo Burke in "Ducks on the Moon"

Hello Winnipeg.I can’t tell you how much this Fort Richmond Collegiate/U of W grad is looking forward to bringing my odd duck of a play home. 

Ducks on the Moon, which is also a book, and a documentary that aired on CBC radio’s Ideas,  is a memoir, about the first five years of my youngest son’s life, and about our family’s coming to terms with his autism. I call the play a stand-up documentary, since it’s non-fiction, and it is about the long journey from first clues and doubts,  to acceptance…but it’s also just theater, and storytelling and sometimes comedy.

When the book came out, and I was touring the show, I thought journalists would ask me about autism, or parenting, or one-person performance. But most often what I got asked about was why on earth I would write a play about the hardest five years of my life, and then go out on the road and perform it as a 75 min. monologue. I suspect they might’ve been questioning my mental health. Or possibly sorting out if I was that sort of crank who needs to go on and on about how hard her life is, and requires an audience for that activity. And all I could say was that I had begun the process because of another question that I was asked very regularly, years before, when we first got our son’s diagnosis.

“When did you first know that your son was different?” people would ask me, often a little anxiously. Some clearly had some other child at the back of their minds, that they were concerned about. And I would sift through my memories–that were tied up in these “funny” stories I used to tell my friends about coping with my at that point undiagnosed son—because when your life is complete chaos, what is there to do but turn it into a funny story and laugh about it?–and I tried to sort out when I did know…and realized that “know” is a really strong word–there were all kinds of clues–the question when did I know, but when could I know….

So I started making a play of those stories. I realized each story reflected a different point in the struggle between my tenacious clinging to who I expected him to be and my recognition of who he really was. I also began to realize the story was not about autism at all, ultimately. It’s about any and every parent who has had to overcome their prejudices, and accept a child as the human being that he or she is.

Now, the other thing people always ask me all the time these days, is, how does your family, particularly your autistic son “Noah”, feel about you performing their lives for others, on stage, and on national radio?

Very good question.

When I first wrote the play, I invited my older children and partner to read it.  And I asked each one of them, am I remembering right? Are you comfortable with me telling this story? So, they have signed off on anything you read in this book.

But what about Noah, who couldn’t read when I first wrote this? Well, I went to him, and said, “Bud, I’m going to do a play where I tell stories about you when you were little. Is that okay?”

“As long as you don’t make people laugh at me.”

And I promised that would never happen.

As we got closer to production, I let him hear sections of the play, on tape, and we talked it through together. I told him that it was really the story of how much I loved him. And he was okay with that.

And that, finally, is how I would ask you to consider Ducks on the Moon, as a love story.

Be good to see you there, 
Kelley Jo Burke, Aug 2 2011.

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