We Will Talk About These Days: Nate and Priscilla Conley

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Nate leaps, arms extended while playing guard in an indoor basketball gameInterview conducted by Marcie Bramucci and Leigh Jackson.

Nate Conley is a 25 year-old man with a passion for the theater. Having participated for many years in amateur theater programs has emboldened him to face his struggles through his passion. Nate is an athletic, talented , trustworthy person who loves his family deeply. He is currently a student in Temple University's Leadership & Career Studies program where he continues to develop skills for a life of self-reliance and independence. Nate is a busy guy. He is on a baseball team, basketball team, does weekly personal training sessions by zoom and, prior to the pandemic, had volunteered to prepare meals for the elderly and sick, ushered at People's Light Theater, Upper Darby Performing Arts theater and was an active member of a theater group. His diagnosis of autism is of no consequence to him when it comes to pursuing is dreams of being a professional performer.

He loves life and loves to be loved and accepted. A simple "Hello" from a peer when they walk by will make his day.

Marcie Bramucci is an artist and arts producer, with experience in theatre, film and television. As the Director of Community Investment at People's Light, she seeks out opportunities and resources for increased access, engagement and connection within and across community. On behalf of People's Light, she is the proud recipient of Art-Reach's 2015 Cultural Access Award for the theatre's relaxed performance initiative and inclusive practices. She leads a cohort of area theatres who collaborate toward increased arts access and inclusion. Marcie has advanced degrees in Theatre Arts (Villanova) and Arts Administration (Columbia) and lives in Malvern with her husband and three little ones.

Leigh Jackson was born and raised in Washington, DC. She has worked as a newspaper reporter and editor and, now, as the Director of Patron Experience at People's Light, a Malvern-based theatre, where she works to make sure all patrons feel welcome. She particularly enjoys making theatre spaces as accessible as possible.

MARCIE: Nate and Priscilla, I am eager to hear from you about what a typical day looks like for you today.

PRISCILLA: OK, Nate. So, what do you do during the day when you wake up and all that? [There are] no right or wrong answers.

NATE: The TV and computer.

PRISCILLA: He's pretty much on his TV and computer all day. But then you do other stuff twice a week on Wednesdays [and] Saturdays.

NATE: We work out.

PRISCILLA: Online he met two young ladies that do Zoom workouts. They're actually in California. And they're wonderful. At first, I thought it was a scam. But turns out they're really great young ladies and he does a pretty rigorous workout. Tell her what you do, Nate.

NATE: Work out as a wonder warrior. And I like-- I just felt like I made friends in the group chat.

PRISCILLA: How do you feel afterwards?

NATE: Like I feel energized.

MARCIE: That's great.

PRISCILLA: So that's only twice a week. Other than that, unfortunately, it's the computer and TV and on the weekend, he does a baseball-- he's on two different teams. He does-- they just started that Saturday and Sunday. But other than that, just unfortunately your computer and TV.

MARCIE: And Priscilla, you said you're working? What do you do?

PRISCILLA: Yeah, I work part time. I'm a paralegal. And so, I do that three days a week. So, I mean, Nate does self-care and he takes care of the dog while I'm gone, but other than that, nothing much. I've been trying to put something together for him, but it's difficult to find activities.

MARCIE: And what's different about now compared to before quarantines began, before we needed to be locked down in our houses. What would a day look like for you previously, Nate or Priscilla?

PRISCILLA: [To Nate] I'll tell my day then you tell yours. My day-- I would get up in the morning, pull Nate out of bed depending on what time his classes started, and pretty much prepare for work. Or on the days I'm off, do things around the house. And a lot of times to be honest, I spent a lot of time just trying to prepare or look for programs for him, and it is a full-time job.

I also am on the kidney transplant list. So, doctor's appointments are scheduled on the day. So, I'm pretty-- I was pretty busy and I will continue to be pretty busy, but now I have enough time to really take care of me too as well. Which is hard for me. Because -and I'm sure you get this from a lot of parents with kids with disabilities - once you find out [your child has a disability], your life becomes that. And now that [Nate's] older, he's not guaranteed services and there are limited services. So, it's kind of-- it's hard and it's scary. When they say falling off the cliff, you literally fall off the cliff.

I'm planning for him to complete his [Leadership and Career Studies program at Temple University] at some point and that's scary because what's next, you know what I mean?

[To Nate] So, tell [Marcie] what your day was like when you were going to school.

NATE: You almost told her everything about that. Like you almost captured my mornings and my morning story. And obviously, vans always get me late.

PRISCILLA: All right, but something happens. I'm not at school with you all day, so what happened at school? What did you do with school?

NATE: I made one of my friends. And we hang around sometimes. And, obviously, I love playing pool with them and air hockey.

MARCIE: Is that something you do at school? Do you play pool and air hockey at Temple?

NATE: Yeah.

MARCIE: Is that before or after class?

NATE: Before class.

MARCIE: Before class, so then you get to hang out with your friends in the lobby and play air hockey and then go to class?

NATE: [Leadership & Career Studies student] coaches hang with me too.

MARCIE: And what kind of classes? What are you studying?

NATE: I major for theater and sports.

Read the rest of the interview

PRISCILLA: Theater and sports.

NATE: Yeah.

MARCIE: Wow.

PRISCILLA: What are some of the classes you took?

NATE: I forget very easily.

PRISCILLA: I think it's your nerves. Well, first of all, he had a volleyball class, which you really liked. And some other things.

NATE: Creative writing.

PRISCILLA: Creative writing. Didn't you take some kind of music class or something?

NATE: No, all I remember is that I-- I took dance class before at the [YMCA].

PRISCILLA: No, I mean at Temple. This is all Temple stuff.

NATE: I don't remember. I don't think I did.

MARCIE: Do you remember volleyball class?

NATE: Yes, I took volleyball class.

MARCIE: So I would imagine that during-- with COVID and with the university closing classes that you would have to have-- was it all of your classes online?

NATE: Yes.

PRISCILLA: So what happened for volleyball? Do you remember if they kept volleyball class going for you online?

NATE: Actually, we just completed them all.

MARCIE: In person?

NATE: On Zoom.

MARCIE: How do you do volleyball class on Zoom? Do you remember?

NATE: That was before when summer arrived.

MARCIE: When you-- did you have volleyball class?

PRISCILLA: When they shut down the school, Nate. Did you have volleyball class?

NATE: Yes, on Zoom.

PRISCILLA: And what did you all do on Zoom for volleyball class?

NATE: We just learned about it, and then I looked up on the volleyball moves on the-- on some kind of worksheet on the screen. And then we were watching volleyball videos.

MARCIE: Are there people that you haven't been able to see because of COVID? Are there people that you would normally see that you don't get to see right now?

NATE: Well, I wanted to see-- I wanted to see one of my childhood friends when I was young. There's this girl named Gabby who lives across the street, and I used to go over to her house to have some fun.

PRISCILLA: Who do you visit now? I mean, you haven't seen her in years. Whose house-- who do you want to go over now? Girlfriend?

NATE: I got two girlfriends.

MARCIE: And have you seen your girlfriends? How do you-- do you see them in person? Do you see them online?

NATE: My first girlfriend's name is Natalie. We've met at the Wii room at the apartments when I was playing Wii with the guys. She asked me out and gave me her number, and that's how we became the "Two Nats"

PRISCILLA: Natalie and

NATE: .

NATE: She does have Gmail, which I'm doing with her right now. Then my second girlfriend's name is Cynthia, who I've met at "Acting Antics" while I was at Temple sitting at the lobby waiting for my ride. She asked me out during-- on video chat. She does have Facebook Messenger and she does go to Acting Antics with me. And hopefully I might come to her house again. Because usually she's a very busy girlfriend.

MARCIE: And so has it felt different not being able to see Natalie or Cynthia in person?

NATE: I mean, honestly, I would go see them that much if only I had my freedom.

MARCIE: Can you tell me more about that?

NATE: About my freedom?

MARCIE: What would it mean or look like to have your freedom?

NATE: Because I'm trying to get away from mom as soon as possible. And when I'm done Temple [University], and I'm doing things my way, and I'll just brush my teeth and do whatever she said to me. And I'll go someplace far and near independently if it's not going to make them-- make her and my dad worried that much because maybe they just don't understand the true meaning of a man who goes anywhere alone just like all other men should be.

I'm probably going to live in Media, Pennsylvania for my own place. Like my apartment is sitting behind Wendy's near the Media theater. It's a good place for me. And I might visit them by trolley because we got a trolley in upper Darby, so I mean, if the Coronavirus would just be over already.

PRISCILLA: We're going to go to-- move to Florida when he finishes Temple. And so that's-- it probably won't be a bigger house, but it'll be a lot more space. Because it'll have a pool and all of that.

LEIGH: Where in Florida? Where in Florida would you like to go?

PRISCILLA: I'm kind of trying to research that now. And I'm told that a place like Leesburg, Florida, which is near Orlando. You can get the same amenities and you're right there. You know what I mean? So, you get-- you're a few miles away and you get the same amenities for a lower price, a lot lower.

So that's what we want to do. I mean, his dream is to get a job at Disney World, which is not all that outrageous because they-- he loves theater and there are-- the jobs are plentiful at-- in Orlando, not just Disney, but all over. It's nothing but mascots. So that's what we're hoping will happen for Nate, right?

NATE: Yes, but as long as we can live in Orlando.

MARCIE: Is there anything you miss and anything that you might be looking forward to when COVID is over?

NATE: I just want to explore Center City and have fun, even if I could just have friends to come with me. And maybe I'll be with my girlfriend again to go anyplace. Maybe go to the movies with her. And then all theme parks will be back to normal and then I'll go to the mall again. Hopefully, our vacations will be normal too. And hopefully we can go bowling.

PRISCILLA: And you were in bowling club at Temple [University] too, Nate, remember? Yeah, that was good. That was one of the things that he actually received a huge kudos for because he was the only kid in the program at Temple that did something independent of the program with only neurotypical peers, and that was the bowling club. And they met on Saturday, and they would go to a bowling alley. So that was great. That was really nice.

MARCIE: Nate, you mentioned the masks, being able to go to amusement parks and places without masks. How do you feel about the masks that we're supposed to wear when we go outside for COVID?

NATE: I get a little tiny uncomfortable with them.

MARCIE: Can you tell me more about that? Is it with you wearing it or with seeing others wearing them?

NATE: I guess I got to do what people might do. Like one mask off and then you're done for.

MARCIE: Can you tell me more about that?

PRISCILLA: How does that make you feel, though?

NATE: I didn't want to, but then I realized that if I want to keep myself from dying, I've got to put it on.

MARCIE: And how does it physically feel wearing the mask?

NATE: Like I couldn't completely breathe in air.

MARCIE: But you wear the mask when you go out?

NATE: Yeah.

LEIGH: Great. That's important. You said that you like to watch TV, and you also like to get on the computer. When you watch TV, what do you watch?

NATE: Nickelodeon and Disney.

PRISCILLA: [To Nate] You ever watch news or about the pandemic and what's going on?

NATE: I never watched it that much.

LEIGH: So how do you learn about what's going on with the pandemic and what do you-- what you need to do? Do you get that from your mom and dad, or do you get that from other sources?

NATE: From other sources.

LEIGH: And what are those sources, friends?

NATE: Yeah, I heard my friends are talking about it before.

MARCIE: What are your feelings about COVID?

NATE: I get upset and annoyed about it.

MARCIE: In what way?

NATE: A serious way.

MARCIE: What particularly annoys you about COVID? Is it about the virus itself, or about something that we need to do differently because of the virus?

NATE: I think it's the first thing.

MARCIE: So the virus itself.

NATE: Yeah.

MARCIE: Do you have concerns about the virus, about being sick or about catching it, or are you concerned about the virus at all?

NATE: I'm still trying to-- I'm still protecting myself.

PRISCILLA: [To Nate] Are you worried about getting it?

NATE: I might, or else I'm done for, mom.

PRISCILLA: Usually when he says might, that means 'yes.'

MARCIE: OK. Has there been anything unexpected during this COVID time, anything-- maybe any silver linings, anything positive to come out of COVID that you didn't expect?

NATE: Yeah.

PRISCILLA: Yeah, like what? What made you happy about COVID?

NATE: Like I could always relax during it.

PRISCILLA: Oh. Yeah, he likes not being anxious about tests and all that at Temple [University]. And just-- things make him nervous outside of the home, so that's a plus for him. Now I don't have to worry.

I have to tell you that I've noticed a big difference in [Nate's] cognitive ability since he's not going there. Everything is like a struggle and he was much more-- his language was much more fluid and just his thoughts were quicker. You know what I mean? So, I can see him regressing in that area.

And I don't think that medication is necessary. In the past, he needed medication to help him focus. And it did that, but it also came with its comms-- cons. But when he was attending Temple-- and he is very busy. He volunteered. He attended Temple. He was involved in three different sports teams. He ushered at a theater. He volunteered. He also participated in three different theater programs, so he was gone all the time.

So, his mind was constantly-- he constantly had to come up with answers for things and all that. And now, he struggles with even saying 'yes' or 'no'. So, I have definitely seen a huge difference in not being able to interact with peers and not being challenged mentally. And it's tough. We can't make up for that. So even though it gives him comfort not to be challenged, it's kind of scary and sad for me.

MARCIE: What is your thought about Temple going back to classes? I think a lot of it's going to be virtual still for the fall. Is that correct?

PRISCILLA: I think so, yeah.

NATE: I didn't like it.

PRISCILLA: [To Nate] Can you turn on the air conditioning? It's burning up in here.

NATE: Always given orders by my mom, so yeah.

PRISCILLA: This is another issue we're having. He's constantly frustrated with me. We're seeing too much of each other.

MARCIE: I was going to ask that about how-- who you're spending your time with, Nate and Priscilla. And it sounds like you're spending a lot of time with each other?

PRISCILLA: We have each other. And dad works full-time, long days, so he gets a break. So, either I go and hide in my room or Nate goes and hides in his space. Although just before we went on vacation, [Nate] was the sweetest guy ever. And we went to-- where did we go? We went to Florida, which was dangerous. But we went to-- what's the park we went to?

NATE: Sea World.

PRISCILLA: Yeah, Sea World. And prior to that, he was the sweetest guy ever. So, I think he can control his emotions when he wants something. And once we went back, it was the same old Nate again once we got back.

LEIGH: How did you-- did you fly down to Florida? Did you drive? How did you get there?

PRISCILLA: We drove because of our dog. We take her everywhere. And with her being older, we can't put her with a dog sitter anymore. But driving is part of the trip. Like we stay overnight and we have-- like we eat at different towns and kind of walk around in different towns and all of it. And that's kind of nice.

It was also weird because some of the towns-- they thought the masks were a joke, you know what I mean? It was really weird. And we stopped at a rest stop, some of the people looked at us as if we were from outer space because we didn't have-- because we had masks on. So that told me a lot-- gave me a lot-- us a lot about reality. And we got out of those towns quickly. But it was it was just unbelievable to us that people were not wearing masks. They still don't believe that this thing is real.

MARCIE: So, having just visited and then thinking about wanting to live there after school, have you been planning for a while to move to Florida?

PRISCILLA: If we're going to make a move, now's the time after Nate graduates.

And I'm hoping-- we're hoping that Nate is more independent by then. And he wants to be as well. But I don't think he completely gets how much goes into being independent other than just fussing with your parents. It's a lot more open to it than that. But he does have a desire, which is huge.

MARCIE: I was wondering how important is it to connect with people during all of this with being at home, and maybe who are some of the people you've been connecting with? What does connection and being connected look like or feel like for you?

NATE: Like I'm not alone anymore.

PRISCILLA: [To Nate] How important is it that you don't get to see people you would normally get to see? You know what I mean. Friends, your girlfriend, or like we usually go over Aunt Sharon's house for the 4th of July and all that. How important is that to you? How does it feel not to be able to do that?

NATE: Like-- or it will be sad.

LEIGH: What gives you joy now? What makes you happy?

PRISCILLA: [To Nate] What makes you happy, Nate? Now that you're stuck in the house. Does anything make you laugh? I can think of several things. You're in there cracking up all the time in your room. What makes you laugh?

NATE: I relax, mom. I just-- relaxation makes me very happy.

MARCIE: And Priscilla, I'm wondering for you what's been-- if there's been anything unexpected for you in all of this in COVID and-- yeah, anything unexpected for you and anything that's bringing you joy.

PRISCILLA: What brings me joy is I like when I hear Nate laughing in the room and just sounding like he's relaxed and having fun, especially since our foster daughter left. She a lot of times would interact with him and all, and he's not-- he struggles with making friends and keeping friends. And so, she was good with that. So, when I hear him laughing and dancing in his room and really just being at his best, he seems so happy that sometimes I turn off the TV. I'll just listen to it. It makes me feel very happy. It brings me joy. Another thing is that it brought me and my husband closer together.

It makes you kind of appreciate things that you took for granted before. So, I think that's a part of it. Speaking of which, my husband just came home from work.

MARCIE: Oh, great. And I see Nate smiling and laughing right now. I see Nate laughing now, which is great. Smile lights right up on your face. Excellent, is there anything else that--

NATE: We're such good best friends though.

PRISCILLA: Who's best friends?

NATE: Me and-- my dad and I, we may be father and son but also best friends.

MARCIE: What is it about your dad that you think makes you guys click so well?

NATE: Dad can't allow me to go to the crab house with them because you've got to be over 18 or way older to be invited there. But now that I'm way older, he invites me to his crab house every Saturday night. That crab house was like completely loud with a jukebox blasting music and some Philadelphians just having a crazy time with their lives. You know how Philadelphia is with all the funny chaos and talking going on.

PRISCILLA: Yeah, that was his dad's hang out. And then once Nate was old enough, now he includes Nate in that. Well, now he can't until Philadelphia opens up. But they would go there and Nate's like a superstar because my husband is a regular now and then he brings Nate there. "Hey, Nate." He gets like a lot of attention. They treat him well. And then there's one waitress in particular that calls him handsome and gives him a hug. Right, Nate, and all of that. So, he loves doing that. And that was their Saturday thing. That's one of the things that you miss, right, because of COVID? Yeah.

MARCIE: And that's something you'll look forward to when you can get back to it when they're open. OK. Nate. You did a great job. Thank you so much. Thank you, Priscilla.

PRISCILLA: Thank you.

NATE: Thank you both.

PRISCILLA: I'm glad we were helpful.

LEIGH: Thank you so much. Bye-bye.


NOTES
1. Leadership and Career Studies (LCS)
A four-year certificate program providing young adults with intellectual disabilities an authentic college experience while developing academic abilities, career aspirations, work skills and independence at Temple University. LCS students are supported by Temple undergrad students, referred to as "coaches." LCS is a program of the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University




People's Light

People's Light, one of the largest professional theatres in Pennsylvania, forges cultural and civic connections throughout our rapidly growing region. In the landscape of American regional theatres, we count ourselves among the few located outside of a metropolitan area. Our home in the heart of Chester County places us at a unique crossroads of rural, urban, and suburban populations. Throughout our year-round season, we produce contemporary plays, classics, new forms of music theatre, and original work. Beyond the stage, we host a wide array of cultural experiences and education programs that inspire meaningful engagement with, and sustained investment in and from, our surrounding communities.

The seven-acre campus at People's Light features a restored, 18th-century farmhouse, two black box performance spaces, scenic shops, classrooms, rehearsal space, picnic areas, and our administrative offices. We also serve as a local polling place. The farmhouse is home to our for-profit business: a premier event venue, The Farmhouse at People's Light, and an on-site restaurant, The Farmhouse Bistro. 82,000 people visit our campus each year. Nowhere else in the region can patrons see exceptional theatre, attend a town-hall discussion, have dinner with friends, take a class, celebrate a wedding, and cast a vote, all in one place.

Our ties are local, our reach is national. We surround our productions with activities that connect us with our neighbors, weaving the onstage work into the fabric of community life. We lead the nation in accessible theatre practices, and strive to create programs and performances that can be enjoyed by everyone. As part of a longstanding history of new work development, People's Light commissions and produces world premiere plays, many of which go on to additional productions across the country. We established a nationally recognized model for locally inspired plays that aim to awaken a greater collective consciousness of our American experience.


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