Theater Student Uses Personal Experience as Inspiration


As Garrett Kim, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’16, began writing his play, “Pilot’s Wings,” he knew he wanted to bring attention to an issue that was close to home. With an aim to inspire and teach audiences, Kim portrays a different perspective of those living with autism in his play. From Oct. 27-29, “Pilot’s Wings” will be performed in the Veronica Lally Kehoe Studio Theatre at FCLC.

The idea of “Pilot’s Wings” started this past summer, when Kim worked with autistic children from ages eight through 18 in Milwaukee’s First Stage Children’s Theatre. “We worked on portraying emotions, working and interacting with other kids, coordination and other ‘life skills through stage skills’ as we performed short skits, songs and dances. The idea behind the curriculum was that the theater skills would help these kids come out of their shell and make strides in their social skills, which for kids with autism tends to be a weakness,” Kim said.

The main theme of “Pilot’s Wings” is to demonstrate that what we may see or hear from the media, in terms of those living on the autism spectrum, is not all as it may seem. “One thing I’ve noticed that’s different between interaction with [those on the spectrum] in person and reading and seeing clips from the medi. Kids with autism are people, too. Luckily, nowadays, there’s a much more positive light cast on kids with autism, especially as awareness for the condition has been more widespread,” Kim said. 

This play stresses the importance of finding that connection with those with autism. “We tend to hear about artistic savants who have managed to find a way to connect with the rest of the world. I think what’s equally important is to remember that these kids are also people, and that we should do our best to meet them halfway. People with autism are just as full of life as the rest of us,” Kim said. “Though it takes a bit more work on our behalf to see that, but autistic kids are so full of love, I’ve found, that it makes all the work more than worth it.”

“The play itself is an exploration of communicating and finding connection. All the characters are looking for something that they don’t have themselves and run into barriers on how they can get that from other people,” Kim said. “The main character, Pilot, has autism, but a lot of the other characters also can’t always say what they are feeling or can’t express themselves in the ways that they’d like to. [The play] is like an experimental, non-linear journey.”

Kim has been working on this play since last year through his playwriting workshop. For the last month, Kim has been experimenting with scene order and continuously researching in order to figure out a way to have the play be performed through Pilot’s mind. “I think the most rewarding part [of writing the play] is hearing so many people getting excited about it because there’s someone in their life who is affected by autism. Having someone with what we would consider a disability to be the protagonist and to have agency, I think, is just really exciting for a lot of people to see. For me, that is the most rewarding part, having it affect other people like that.”

Kendall Cafaro, FCLC ’17, and Tony Macht, FCLC ’17, who are both cast members of “Pilot’s Wings,” have also come away from this play with a better understanding of autism and it’s everyday challenges. Cafaro plays Pilot’s teacher, Mrs. Foster, in the production, while Macht stars as Pilot. 

“Working with everyone has been really great. I’ve learned a lot about those who struggle with autism, and I’m glad I got to learn with company. I have a better understanding of the variety of symptoms someone with autism can have,” Cafaro said. “Each diagnosis is different and each person has different ways of communicating with people. For me, the most challenging part is trying to fully grasp how the family members of those with autism cope. The lifestyle of a family is completely affected when a relative has autism and it’s difficult to understand the weight of that if you yourself aren’t going through it.”

Macht also credits the experience of playing Pilot with his better understanding of how someone on the spectrum copes with different situations.  “Before I started this role I had basically no knowledge on the subject of autism. The most challenging part of the play for me was learning how to physically embody somebody who is autistic,” Macht said. “My character Pilot moves and reacts so differently to touch and space than I do; the process of finding that was quite difficult.”

 Kim’s hopes are that those who see the play walk away with a better understanding of autism. “I want audiences to walk away with an understanding that it’s not that Pilot has a disorder, or that he’s handicapped, it’s that he has a different set of tools to go about the world, and communicate with the world,” Kim said.