By Michael YEGHIAYAN
Actors for Autism, a Glendale-based organization dedicated to training and supporting students with autism who are interested in film and television production, is holding an event honoring actor Joe Mantegna. The event, titled “Reach for the Stars,” will be held on Oct. 2 at Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz.
The evening will include a red carpet, silent auction, dinner and program produced by the organization and will feature a range of people involved in Actors for Autism.
“The show will offer a feeling of inclusion within our entire community,” said Actors for Autism founder and director Alisa Wolf. “There will be people with and without disabilities, some people who are physically challenged, some with autism, some celebrities, and entertainment from the venue itself.”
The evening will also present Mantegna, perhaps best known for his role on CBS’s drama “Criminal Minds,” with the Humanitarian of the Year award. He was one of the first celebrities to work with the organization, which was originally founded in 2004. He is also a member of its advisory board.
“He knows what our vision is, and shares in that vision. We felt that because not only has he helped us, and a number of other charities as well, he was our choice for this award,” explained Wolf. “I can’t remember a time [when] we called him asking for help and had him turn us down.”
The actor, who has a daughter with autism, was praised for his selflessness and charity.
“Having him and having his support really opened a door for us to other professionals in the industry who respect him and felt compelled to come on board with us,” she continued.
President Charlene Tilton, best known for her work on the television show “Dallas,” joined the organization in January. She wanted to hold an event to help raise awareness of the program and to help raise funds to supplement the cost of the equipment, particularly in the film and television division.
The curriculum is designed by Actors for Autism staff to mirror many of the other professional film schools while dividing individual aspects of the industry into smaller steps that are more easily understood. The program, which currently enrolls 10 students, is designed to fully prepare its students to contribute to the film industry with minimal compromise.
The school also designates goals and objectives for the program in each individual area of education to ensure long-term success.
“Because of our connections, we have the ability to secure internships for them in the community as well as develop a resume which helps set them above some of the other people that may be applying. We know what those types of companies are looking for.”
Through an individualized approach, Wolf said that students who fall on the autistic spectrum have skills that make them well-suited for a successful career in filmmaking.
“A lot of the things in production are repetitive, and people on the autistic spectrum like routine. So it’s a matter of teaching them the steps and once they learn those steps, whether it’s with a camera or editing or lighting, it’s just repeating those steps in different settings,” she explained. “It seems to be a really good match for them. Once they find a passion for something, teaching them the steps is the easy part.”
Funding for the program is made possible through a contract with the State of California through the Regional Center system, which provides funding for the developmentally disabled who qualify through an assessment and diagnosis.
“If a student tours the program and decides that it’s really something they want to pursue, the state agency can approve it and provide the funding to us directly,” said Wolf. “It prevents parents from having to pay out of pocket, which is really nice.”
A number of the students are from outside the area, and Wolf wanted to encourage potential local participants to look into the program if they have interest in the film industry.
“We are getting some people from nearby, but a majority of the people are from outside the Glendale, Pasadena, or Burbank area that either have had a connection to us before or maybe attended one or more of our programs,” she said. “[Though] we know that autism is prevalent in the surrounding areas, we feel it is about the parents not really knowing about our program.”
For more information about Actors for Autism or to purchase tickets to “Reach for the Stars,” visit www.actorsforautism.org.