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What is the book about?
‘When I grow up I want to be a cat’ is all about surviving the education system with Aspergers Syndrome. Not only does the book give my own unique perspective, of my time from Nursery school to University, it interviews nine other individuals on the spectrum about their experiences too. Many of these individuals work for Open Theatre Company Birmingham and Coventry and have gone on in life to do wonderful and creative work within the arts. The book’s title is taken from something I said when I was at school. I was asked by a teacher what I wanted to be when I grew up. All of the other children said “Nurse, Doctor, Lawyer or fireman.” Not me, I wanted to be a brown and white cat. My reason for this was I could be fat, lazy, sit by the fire and have plenty of love and attention. I still live by this philosophy today except that being a housecat does not pay the bills and so I have had to go to University to do more advanced training.
The book is written in an accessible way so everyone should be able to read it no matter if they have any diagnosis or not. The book includes a foreword written by Richard Hayhow of Open Theatre Company which includes his thoughts on creating positive environments for young people with learning disabilities to thrive in. He also writes about his first impressions and his experience of working alongside me. The book includes beautiful pictures drawn by Matt Recardo and Sam Kilpatrick who are both on the spectrum and are making this their debut as professional illustrators. The book is split into four big chapters which are about Nursery, Primary school, Secondary school and University. It is special because not many books are written by Autistic people for Autistic people and their carers and families. Many of the books out there are written by individuals who claim that they are Autism experts but who have no experience of having the condition themselves. They have no understanding of what life is like for us or of what it feels like to experience a meltdown.
The book also interviews my parents, teachers and my school support worker. This is because I wish to break away from us and them attitudes in healthcare. I want to have conversations with professionals about how to better support individuals on the spectrum and I want this book to begin a revolution. I wish for individual care planning for all children. I want their strengths and preferences to be taken into account no matter whether they have autism or not. I also want to use this book as a means to uncover experiences of others with Asperger syndrome who are at school right now and may not be as able to articulate their needs and wishes. What this book does not do is speak on behalf of all people with Aspergers. The book is my experience and mine alone. I do not wish to represent or advocate for any group of people unless I am asked to directly by them. This book also cannot explain the experiences of individuals who are on what gets called ‘the lower functioning end of the spectrum.’ I dislike this term and I explain why in my book but this is the best that language can give us at the moment. The book cannot tell of their experiences because I do not know what it is like to be completely none verbal. I do not know what it is like to need 24 hour support or care. All I can do is use this book to start a conversation about care in England and about what we need to do as professionals moving forward.
How the book began
I began writing this book in 2009 when I was studying my first degree. The book was initially written as a series of blogs on my Universities Mental Health support website. Each blog was about a different topic surrounding Aspergers syndrome and Autism. I was working as a peer mentor at the time. Supporting individuals with learning needs to access university societies, facilities and manage their time and workloads. My boss at the time thought that there was enough material to present it in book format. Further, my father suggested that I write a book when I was at home and so ‘When I grow up I want to be a cat’ was born.
Why has it taken you so long to publish it?
I must say it has taken me a while to publish the book because I am a perfectionist. I wanted to be the first Autistic person to write a book of this kind but I was beaten to it in 2019 and several similar books have followed in the last few years. Initially I was sadden by this but actually it is a great achievement for the autism community because now there are several books that they can choose from in order to gain the correct support, all written by Autistic individuals so in my mind that is a wonderful thing. My book includes lots of different research that has been conducted over the past fifteen years and includes all of the most recent facts and knowledge about Aspergers and Autism. The world of research will never stop and so there has to be a point where you say I have included all I can now otherwise the book would never have been finished. It took me a while to figure out where that stopping point was.
Why should I buy a copy?
This book is for you if you have ever wondered about Aspergers and Autism. You might have some behaviours and want to know about an Autistic experience? You might work with Autistic individuals in your setting and want to know how to support them better. You might be an Autistic person looking for some answers and support. You might be a parent or teacher of someone who has Autism. You might be a health professional who works with Autistic individuals. Whatever your reason, if you are looking for a brutally honest account of what it is like to have Asperger syndrome then look no further. Your book is here.
How can I buy a copy?
Amazon paperback link https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Grow-Want-Cat-Surviving/dp/1838149007
The book will be available on Amazon ebooks via this link https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Grow-Want-Cat-Surviving-ebook/dp/B09G23L38G and will also be available from
Our partners Open Theatre Company Birmingham work using nonverbal physical theatre to collaborate with Young People with Learning Disabilities, creating quality art that reflects and celebrates their unique creativity. Open Theatre have supported Alternative Voices since the 'Creative Minds Conference at 'The Midlands Art Centre' (M.A.C) Birmingham in 2017 and now it is our turn to support them. We have been writing some blogs for them to raise awareness of their valuable work and projects happening across 2021 to read the blogs click below to find out what they have been up to this year.
Meet Mark, a determined and misunderstood young lad on the Autistic Spectrum who, believing that a party animal is a real creature, goes hunting for one. This would lead him off onto a wild journey indeed… A funny, uplifting and poignant story, and a moment of hope in these murky times.
The Party Animal is a radio play written by Madeleine Levy and performed by seven actors on the Autistic Spectrum. The project is in partnership with Open Theatre and Alternative Voices, and is supported by Switch Radio and Arts Council England. The team worked alongside playwright Stephanie Dale, BBC's Peter Leslie Wilde and Andy Partington, and composer Maria Haik Escudero.
Today we had the chance to catch up with three actors from Madeleine Levy’s new radio play: Alex Manners, Matt Recardo and Nicky Priest. We also chatted to Madeleine Levy (Alternative Voices) and Grace Smith (Open Theatre), ahead of the premier of The Party Animal on Switch Radio on Monday 6 April at 7pm.
What is your role in The Party Animal?
Alex: I play the main character called Mark. I was thrilled to play this character because I could relate to a lot of the things that Mark was thinking and feeling.
Nicky: I play four different characters! I'm just thankful that this is a radio play and not a theatrical one, just think of all the frequent costume changes I'd have to do... Anyway enough of my imagination running away! The four characters I play are Vince (Mark's classmate), a shopkeeper, a policeman, and a bus driver.
I’d have to say Vince is my favourite character to play, as he is the one who causes the ripple effect for Mark's quest of finding a 'party animal'. Plus, I've always liked the name Vince, it sounds cool, well, I think so anyway...
Madeleine: I have played many roles during the making of The Party Animal. As Artistic Director of Alternative Voices I wrote the script, applied for the funding, cast the actors, and also I play the narrator in the radio play. It has certainly kept me busy!
For me, one of the most interesting parts of the process was writing the script. I have previously written scripts for theatrical settings before, but never for radio. I found that I had to adapt the way I imagined the world that I was creating; imagining it through sound rather than sight. You have to set the location and time of day through soundscapes and sound effects. It made me notice just how much sound we consume on a daily basis!
Grace: I am Madeleine’s Creative Enabler. This has involved me working alongside Madeleine with her funding application, supporting with the planning and delivery of the project, partnering with Madeleine through the entire process; making creative decisions, problem solving, and managing the budget. I have worked with Madeleine on previous projects, and thoroughly enjoy working with her. We have both learned so much from each other, and I am very excited to see what’s to come with Madeleine’s work, through her company Alternative Voices.
Matt: I play four different characters. Mark’s Father (who has a Birmingham accent), a busker (who has a Scottish accent), Danny (who has a Scottish accent), and a policeman (who has a Scottish accent). Mark’s father was easy enough, but playing three different characters with the same accent and making them sound distinctive was a challenge. I also announced the credits at the end (in my own accent)!
What was it like working with the creative team?
Nicky: I worked alongside other young performers on the Autistic Spectrum, and that to me is inspirational because these are young people who are looking to break the glass ceiling (metaphorically of course!), and prove that people with learning disabilities can create great work within the performing industry.
Alex: The whole cast is neurodiverse, and it really does highlight the amount of talent that people with Autism and other neurodiverse conditions have. I have to say that Matt Recardo was amazing at Accents!
Matt: Well, Madeleine not only performed in this play, but wrote it as well. Alex is an award winning public speaker for Autism Awareness, radio presenter and author. Nicky is an accomplished stand up comedian, and actor. Lukan regularly posts comedy videos online that he wrote and acted in. Alice is only 16 years of age and has just done her first professional acting role. And I have been a professional actor for 13 years. All of us are on the Autistic Spectrum, but do not let it hold us back.
Madeleine: The whole team are fantastic. I was mentored by industry professionals who have worked in this field for many years. But I couldn’t have done it without the actors; without them The Party Animal would still just be a script. They have brought it to life and have allowed it to be shared with the world.
Also, Grace, my Creative Enabler also played a key part in making this happen. Together we seem to be able to create things that neither of us could have imagined if we hadn’t started working together.
Grace Smith and Madeleine Levy
How does this project raise awareness to people about what Young People with Learning Disabilities can offer the arts and society?
Matt: We are a cast made up entirely of actors on the Autistic Spectrum. We have proven that we are capable of being in a legitimate professional production as indeed we are capable of many things, if just given the opportunity.
Grace: Whilst raising awareness about what life can be like with Autism, The Party Animal also advocates for actors with Autism. We absolutely believe in the ability of Young People with Learning Disabilities to contribute to the creative sector and change it for the better. We hope to continue supporting Madeleine, and her company, Alternative Voices, through her journey as an artist and as a leader.
Madeleine: My hope it that this play is a moment of hope in this murky time. In times of uncertainty and struggle, you can always rise above your challenges, and that’s what the character in the play does. I believe that The Party Animal will give us all some hope that we can face the challenges in our current environment.
Nicky: It raises awareness of what Young People with Learning Disabilities can offer to the arts and society, by showing off exactly what it is, a piece of art created by Young People with Learning Disabilities, with the play showcasing what life can be like for a young person a learning condition. It also shatters the myth that we cannot contribute to society because... NEWSFLASH!!! We can do just that!
Alex: The play will act as an inspirational piece to showcase the talents of neurodiverse individuals, and those like myself who have Asperger’s and Autism. It will show others that we are valuable members of a team, and that we can achieve things you may not have thought possible. Hopefully many more people like us will be given opportunities as a result of the radio play.
Why should people tune in to listen on Monday 6 April at 7pm?
Madeleine: It will be the first time that Switch Radio has ever aired a radio play with entirely neurodiverse actors, which is incredibly exciting!
Alex: If you know anyone with Autism, have Autism yourself, or you want to learn more about Autism, then this play will certainly inspire and educate you. It shows what Autism can be like for an individual and a family, and it also showcases different traits and elements surrounding Autism. Above all, the play is a really interesting story.
Matt: I think mainly because not enough Autistic people are listened to when it comes to talking about Autism. Information is out there, but often from people who do not have the condition themselves. This is not to take away any credibility from what they say, but hearing the viewpoint of someone who actually lives with the condition is vitally important in my opinion.
Grace: The Party Animal is first and foremost a high-quality piece of entertainment that will take you on a journey of varying emotions, but it is also much more than that. At Open Theatre, we not only want listeners to enjoy the play, but we want to break down barriers and encourage people to be more welcoming of difference.
Nicky: People should tune in to listen to The Party Animal because it is different to what your conventional radio plays offer. It is written and performed by Young People with Learning Disabilities, and it tells a unique about what it can be like to live the life of someone on the Autistic Spectrum.
Tune in on Switch Radio (107.5 FM) on Monday 6 April at 7pm to hear the premiere of The Party Animal.
This is one not to be missed!
Script Writer: Madeleine Levy
Cast: Alex Manners, Alice Fry, Lukan Smith, Nicky Priest,
Matt Recardo, Madeleine Levy and Samantha Kent
Script Mentor: Stephanie Dale
Creative Enabler: Grace Smith
Audio Director: Peter Leslie Wilde
Sound Engineer: Andy Partington
Composer: Maria Haik Escudero
Photographer: John Stokes
Marketing: Bethan Ball
It has been very hard work but we have been awarded arts council funding. Thank you very much Arts Council England.
We have a team of seven actors and seven members of the production team and a challenge to create a piece of Forum theatre within a nine week rehersal period. We chose three themes to create a piece around Identity, Justice and belonging.
Show dates are Friday 7th of September and Sunday 9th of September at the Birmingham Hippodrome looking forward to seeing you all there.
Get involved: What do belonging, identity and justice mean to you? Post your responses in the comments or on our facebook page.
We have had a great couple of years since Alternative Voices Theatre company was created. We have run several events to raise money for 'Mind' charity and for our funds to send us to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
We started out back in August 2014 with a show that I wrote called 'A day to remember.' This was performed at the 'Midlands Art Centre' where we raised £100 for 'Mind.' We then went on to do a variety show at the Hall Green Little Theatre on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th of June 2015 and raised a further £100. This year we have done a 5k run in April and a show written by Olwen Wynmark called 'Find me' in May 2016. The latest show was a modernised version of 'Find me' exploring Mental health and the collapse of the NHS.
A list of events
13th August 2014 ' A day to remember' written by Madeleine Levy
Variety show 27th and 28th of June 2015
5 K run April 2016
14th May 2016 'Find me' written by Olwen Wynmark
Car boot sale July 2016
Monolouge and Poetry slam December 4th 2016
Craft Fayre December 6th 2016
see our future events page for more details.