As part of Autism Acceptance Week (28 March – 3 April 2022), we spoke to Alex Frost, who is one of the actors currently portraying Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin in Marvellous. To celebrate his performance, we discuss how through acceptance of his own diagnosis, he was able to find ‘Happiness’ in himself. It was such a pleasure to talk to Alex and his account reflects his own determination to follow his dreams and shine brightly. We are extremely proud of our neurodivergent cast and to recognise Autism Acceptance Day.
How did you get into acting?
I started by joining an amateur theatre company called D. E. Caversmill Theatre Company, which is still going. It was purely and simply to boost my confidence in the beginning. I did not want to become an actor at that point. I was really shy. It was only as time went on and I did more shows with them that I thought maybe I could do this as a career.
What advice can you offer to anyone looking to begin a career on stage?
If you genuinely believe in yourself and you want a career on stage, have the confidence to go and do it! Often people’s main concern is getting into drama school. While that is important, a lot of people think once they’ve trained they’re going to make it. Actually, getting into drama school is the easier bit – it is staying in the industry that is harder. You do a lot of comparing yourself to other people and with the way social media is now, you need to find your unique selling point – what is individual to you. Actors try to do everything, but you can’t really. You have to find something you’re really good at and follow that. I graduated from drama school 10 years ago and there’s only 13 of us out of 30 in my year that are still acting now. If you’ve got the determination, belief and a really thick skin, then be prepared for the long road ahead with lots of ups and downs, but I wish you good luck!
What challenges have you faced as a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder? How did you overcome them?
You overthink. I think the worst sometimes and of course, actors overthink anyway. Having Autism on top of that just magnifies everything so it does all boil down to having that belief in yourself. For a long time, I kept my diagnosis quiet because I thought people would not give me a job because of it. On reflection, now I tell people about it because mine is an unseen disability, so not a lot of people realise I have got it at first. For a lot of people, it explains why I do things a certain way so it can actually go in my favour sometimes because then they understand where I am coming from. It is not about making exceptions. As long as you’re clear with the people you’re working with, and say, ‘I’ve got this’, ‘These are the things that I need’, or ‘This can help me’, then a good employer will take those comments on board and help you where they can. I actually surprise myself by the things I can do!
How does it feel to be a part of the Marvellous Company?
I am originally from Stoke so to be telling a ‘Stoke story’ is amazing. I have always wanted to perform at the New Vic; to be performing here is great because it is such a unique theatre. There are not many theatres in the round – it is a challenging space to play in vocally so it pushes you as an actor as well. Neil’s story is one I immediately connected to because of my Autism. Even if you don’t have Autism, it is a story of inspiration. It does give you a lesson for life: ‘Be a bit more like Neil,’ to be a bit more forward and have the courage to go ‘I am going to do that!’ and think ‘What is the worst that could happen?’
The seven of us have been so tight as a group of actors – we instantly got on. At the performances, I have never seen anything like it with the audiences. It’s like the fourth wall is broken down and you don’t know what each night is going to be. It really is a special story to be a part of. The theatre has understood about the different needs of the cast and treated everyone as individuals. Daniel [Murphy, a fellow cast member] and I have both had to take different routes, but we always come back to the same place. I think it really important that you have those actors because they have lived those experiences explored in the play.
Why is it important for us to celebrate Autism Acceptance Day?
As someone with an unseen disability, sometimes people can’t tell I’ve got Autism and so when I say something a bit off, they will say, ‘Why did you say that?’ and then I explain it is because I have Autism. Every disability is important, but if you have a physical disability, people make allowances because they can see it. There is still a long way to go, but for me, it is about accepting that everyone is different. We are all wired differently and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s just people’s unique way of doing things and by accepting people with those conditions, they might just surprise you. Ask questions and make adjustments. Some companies say they’re fully inclusive but make no allowances. All they are doing is ticking a box to say, ‘Yes, we’ve got the token disabled person.’ They haven’t actually sat down with the person and said, ‘How can we help you?
I have experienced a lot of people saying that because they’ve got a disability, they can’t do very much. Actually we can! I might not be able to do it like you, I might do it slower than you or I might do it a different way than you, but I will do it. My idea might even be better than yours! It is about celebrating difference. We live in a world where everything has to look or be a certain way and if you aren’t following the ‘norm’, then there is something wrong. There is nothing wrong – it’s just that you are doing it in a different way and that’s your unique selling point! There is no one like you, so go on your own adventure and you will shine brightly. Again it comes down to Neil’s philosophy of ‘Be Happy!’
And ‘Happiness’ is certainly one of the key messages from the show…
Whenever I am in Neil’s company, I instantly feel happy and that is great, especially in the times that we are living in. To have someone like Neil who makes you feel happy – surely everyone wants to be around that! I asked Neil how is he happy all of the time, because I thought you can’t be happy all the time, you go through bad times, and he said the main message to take away is this:
“If you see someone unhappy – you tell them a joke, tell them a funny story, do anything to make them happy. By seeing someone else happy, that will make you happy.”
It all comes from a very selfless place – he is always thinking about others, never about himself and that is rather special.
You can see Alex in Marvellous until Saturday 9 April. Click here to book tickets.