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Uncommon Sense

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People on the Autism Spectrum are our brothers, fathers, sisters, and mothers. Integrated into our schools, workplaces, churches, and families they confront us with a new and broader understanding of what is ‘normal’ or typical. Uncommon Sense, premiering this January 2017 at the Gallagher Bluedorn, is a project rooted in Iowa stories about Iowa families and communities affected by life on the spectrum. This three-year collaboration began with interviews of Iowans and captures our stories and the people of Iowa in the narrative of the play. Uncommon Sense introduces us to special members of our Iowa family and does so with a sense of humor, love, and understanding.  

Before ever taking the stage, Uncommon Sense has been uniting Iowans. Countless hours were spent interviewing citizens of the Hawkeye State for the development of the production. As a result, many of the characters and their stories are composites of various Iowan experiences. Audience members can look forward to observing familiar environments as the cast invites them down the aisles of HyVee and straight into their hearts.

Indeed the entirety of Uncommon Sense, from conception to final product, has been a transformative process for a multitude of communities. From an academic perspective... READ MORE »

More Stories \ #UNIUncommonSense

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Premiere Performances

January 21, 7:00 PM
January 22, 2:00 PM

Can You Define Normal?

Square Peg, Round Hole

Anushka & Andy

How it BeganHow it Began

Uncommon Sense is a journey, and its inception, no different.


In 2008, Andy Paris and Anushka Paris-Carter’s daughter was placed on the autism spectrum. Though the conclusion of Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Otherwise Not Specified (PDD-NOS) was intended to offer an explanation, it merely elicited more questions from the couple: What is our understanding of ‘typical’ behavior? What are our expectations of childhood development and what are the realities? When our daughter drifts into her own world, effectively there and not there, where does she go? What does she hear? What does she understand about the world that can only hope she will someday be able to communicate in?


They were not alone in their queries. In a world ruled by false commentaries and an art scene severely lacking in autism narratives, a spark was ignited. By early fall of 2011, a project proposal warmed the printers, succeeding their daughter’s honed diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. Shortly after, in a search for understanding and a quest to create enriching art, a partnership was developed between Tectonic Theater Project and Gallagher Bluedorn.


The commissioning work of Uncommon Sense began in 2012 with interviews of Cedar Valley citizens conducted by Andy Paris and Anushka Paris-Carter.  During three separate visits, Andy and Anushka met with a variety of family members and professionals who work and live on the autism spectrum.  Additionally, fourteen University of Northern Iowa theatre students participated in a two-week residency with Andy and Anushka and members of the Tectonic Theater Project with the focus of devising new theatrical works.  Utilizing Tectonic’s Moment Work, the students were encouraged to actively engage with all elements of the stage, enfranchising writers, actors, designers, and directors to collaborate in compelling and theatrical storytelling.    


And now, after years of development, workshopping and revision, actors - both on and off the spectrum - are ready to take the stage!


Project News/Events


NEW YORK — Growing up gay in Venezuela, Moisés Kaufman* knew what it was like to feel like an... Read More »

CEDAR FALLS – Andy Paris, director of “Uncommon Sense,” and Andrew Duff, an actor on the autism... Read More »

CEDAR FALLS – The Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center has invited Andy Paris, director of... Read More »

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For an in-depth experience of the Uncommon Sense Project.

Living on the Spectrum

Gallagher Bluedorn Marketing Team January 13, 2017

Just listened to a panel discussion with Andrew Duff from Tectonic Theater Project and UNI grad student Dakota Funk! Andrew shared how he got involved with Uncommon Sense before they talked about their experiences being on the spectrum...

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Premiere Performances

January 21, 7:00 PM
January 22, 2:00 PM


Our InvolvementOur Involvement

Gallagher Bluedorn's Story

Gallagher Bluedorn and the Tectonic Theater Project's relationship dates back to 2002 with the award winning presentation of The Laramie Project by Theatre UNI.  Eight years later, Gallagher Bluedorn was happy to have Tectonic Theater Project back again, this time with it's production of The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later. It was during the months that followed this visit that the two entities decided to join forces to explore the world of autism, thus beginning Gallagher Bluedorn's commissioning of Uncommon Sense.

In the last five years, Andy Paris and Anushka Paris-Carter have returned to the Cedar Valley many times to interview community members and to facilitate a residency with fourteen UNI students (2012-2013). Excitingly, because of Gallagher Bluedorn’s investment, Uncommon Sense will tour the nation in 2017 channeling Iowa stories and Iowa voices, in addition to voices from around the world, while building community and understanding. 

What is a Commission?

A commissioning is a coming together of organizations and artists for shared work. In its simplest form, it is a financial investment with the express purpose of creating new art – in this case a new play that explores the nature and breadth of being human. 

The Importance of the Arts in Social Change

Art has the capacity to unite people. It sees no difference in its patrons, meeting them where they are, offering experiences as diverse as the consumers themselves. Transcending generations, culture, gender, and class level, performance art provides a beautiful opportunity. Shrouded in the darkness of a great hall, simultaneously each patron lives vicariously through the actors. Though breathing the same air, sharing the same space, and joined in hushed awe - each interpretation is distinct.  

Art generates heightened social awareness and fosters lifelong learners, supplying an engaging form of continued education. For example, Uncommon Sense includes multiple ages, family structures, and careers, allowing viewers to relate on a variety of levels. It also breaches the subject of neurodiversity, making space for both its challenges and rewards, offering multiple perspectives while encouraging patrons to consider other’s daily lived experience and how “atypical” neurology dictates performances of identity.

Simply, Uncommon Sense is art that works. It not only serves as a unifying work for those who share similar stories, but concurrently prompts thoughtful consideration from unfamiliar audiences. In this way, it honors diversity, carving out much needed space in the creative art realm for the stories of persons and family members with autism, redefining the confines of normalcy, and underscoring solicitude. Thus Uncommon Sense embodies the purpose of meaningful art; to teach, to nurture expanded perspectives and simply - to inspire.    


Join Us

for the

Premiere Performances

January 21, 7:00 PM
January 22, 2:00 PM