Connor Olen, whose ambition is to become an actor, was dejected while driving home after high school with his mother. He was very disappointed he did not win a role in the school play. It wasn’t for lack of talent or initiative, however.
It was his Asperger Syndrome Disorder (ASD) that got in the way, a diagnosis that was made when Conner was 11.
During that ride, Connor, 18, a senior at Glenbrook South high school, came up with the idea of making a documentary about the problems that ASD teens, like him, have, and how experts in the field and established actors could help them.
The goal of “The Artistic Spectrum,” his 35-minute documentary, Connor says, “is to reach out to kids who are on the spectrum and tell them that they are not alone and that they are worth something. Even if they believe the contrary.”
Producing the doc shouldn’t too much of a stretch as his parents are well-established film and television professionals. His dad, Jim Olen, partner/director of content for the Chicago Consortium, is the doc’s executive producer, and his mother, Mary O’Donohue, long-time postproduction supervisor on Oprah’s show, will co-direct.
Their Indiegogo campaign seeks $55,000 to fund the doc; to date more than $2,000 has been raised.
Connor will travel anywhere the project takes them, “to interview autism experts on what techniques actors with ASD can use to become performers and how we can look past the diagnosis and be better in our craft,” he says.
The doc’s first interview last week was with Dr. Mark Hyman, of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, a new system of treatment that matches the need to improve the management and prevention of chronic diseases.
Connor would like to premiere his film at Glenbrook South and other high schools across the country, to show other teens they are not alone and to educate their teachers about ASD and the importance of the arts to help kids feel they belong.
And of course, festival entry is high on the list of avenues for getting the message out.
Meanwhile, Connor continues to hone his acting skills at Second City’s specialized improv course for students with ASD, to work through many types of barriers that stand in the way of creativity and socialization.
After he graduates from high school next June, Connor says he’d like to get a creative internship before going to college, which could be Columbia College and where, among all those ambitious visual media artists like him, he should feel right at home.