A chat with Natasha Collie
08/05/2011 Leave a comment
Described as “one of the best bits of radio I’ve heard in ages” which is “frankly, excellent” and “beautifully scripted with a great sense of rhythm”, Flamenco Feet has tackled the tricky subject of Asperger’s Syndrome in an award-winning fashion.
Depicting the thoughts and feelings of five autistic girls with a link being made with flamenco, a Latin American form of dance, such comments were made by the Student Radio Association as the RAW 1251AM drama received critical acclaim from industry professionals.
Winning the Best Speech Programming award at the 2010 Student Radio Awards at the O2, London, the University of Warwick based student radio station claimed top honours as their account of life with a disability stood out from entries by other members of the SRA.
Created and produced by Natasha Collie, a former member of RAW, to show how the syndrome can make those affected by it feel on a daily basis, a sense of intrigue and humour is bought across as a comedy value adds weight to an extremely informative production.
Explaining what can be an extremely complex and mysterious disability in this style, it’s difficult to not feel captivated by the humorous story of inner confusion as the dialogue involved perfectly depicts how not only Asperger’s but also autism as a whole can make somebody affected by it look at life in different ways.
In a bid to find out more about the inspiration, production process and audience reaction behind Flamenco Feet, Collie shares her influences and thoughts with My Autistic Life:
What inspired you to create and produce Flamenco Feet?
Lots of different things really. It started as a completely different beast.
I’m a total hypochondriac and I love medical websites. I’m constantly “discovering” that a cough I have is actually TB or that I’m going to die next week because of a papercut I’ve sustained! I’d wanted to write something about self-diagnosis and the pitfalls of ‘internet info overload’ for yonks.
Then I saw an article on the Guardian’s website. I was totally stunned.
It suggests girls are less likely than boys to get diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders at a young age, so they don’t get access to the same support mechanisms as autistic boys.
I got really interested and read into the work of Tony Attwood who has looked at gender differences in Asperger’s in great detail. He talked about how girls with Asperger’s are often “the invisible child” and that phrase really struck me. I found it heartbreaking.
What were your intentions behind covering Asperger’s Syndrome rather than any other disability?
I’m fascinated by the different ways that people think.
There was one moment in a high school science lesson where my teacher said something like: “What one person sees as green might not be what another person sees as green”, which sounds kind of bonkers now actually but it always stuck with me. I think it’s cool.
Thought processes are amazing – especially thought processes that challenge norms and break boundaries. Really interesting.
Why did you call your drama Flamenco Feet?
I wanted to find a way to link all the different ideas in the play together and the notion of dance just seemed really natural.
I was looking at issues like imitation, co-ordination and preoccupation, all of which seeming inherently linked to dance and choreography.
Why the flamenco specifically?
Because it’s upbeat and flamboyant and gorgeous and sounds great on the radio. I wanted to inject a zesty Latin vibe into the drama to make it more fun and entertaining instead of a laboured or ‘worthy’ piece which is where the name came from. It was also alliterative!
For anybody that hasn’t heard Flamenco Feet, how would you describe it’s story and key events?
It’s a collection of interweaving monologues by a handful of teenage girls with Asperger’s syndrome.
Flamenco Feet doesn’t really have a storyline as such, it’s more a collection of musings or observations on the part of the characters involved. It’s what the girls are writing in their diaries, we get little snapshots of what they’re thinking at different moments.
Kind of Bridget Jones meets The Vagina Monologues meets The Curious Incident (of the Dog in the Night-Time)…or something!
How was the drama received after it was broadcast?
I don’t think it had swathes of listeners!
But everyone who tuned in said nice things about it. And then it went on to win a Student Radio Award which was very lovely indeed.
I do think that people are kind of embarrassed though when I tell them what it’s about – they don’t always know what to say. I think Asperger’s is still something people don’t generally know a lot about.
Did you learn more about the condition by working on Flamenco Feet?
Definitely but I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination.
I tried my best not to misrepresent it or cash in on it. At the end of the day, I just went with the mantra that I wasn’t writing about Asperger’s. I was writing about five teenage girls.
I think it was important to keep it character-led and upbeat so I didn’t swerve into territory where I’d be claiming to be any kind of authority on the subject.
If anybody wanted to produce a similar production, would you encourage them to do so?
I learnt so much from the whole process from researching the subject to writing it, to editing it and I made some great friends in the process so it’s a fantastic thing to do.