Performance a ‘Christmas miracle’ for family
A Jefferson High School student with autism may have found his calling with the debut of his first play.
Jordan Walther’s play, “How the Avengers Saved Christmas” debuted this month at the high school. Walther, 18, also played two key roles in the production, Santa Claus and the Winter Soldier.
“It’s about how the Avengers saved Christmas when people kidnapped Santa Claus,” Walther said. “I thought of it when I saw other people doing plays. And because I like Christmas and the Avengers.”
For his mother, Millisa Craig-Bourke, seeing her son’s play come to life and watching him interact with his peers was nothing short of a Christmas miracle.
Craig-Bourke said her family moved from San Diego last year after he son was bullied at his previous school. In addition to his autism, she said her son has dealt with anxiety and depression.
“He doesn’t have friends and he keeps to himself,” Craig-Bourke said. “Recently he told me, ‘Mom, I have so much stuck in my head that I don’t know what to do.’ So I told him to write his thoughts down.”
After they went to see a play, Walther started turning his thoughts into his own plays, taking his feelings and combining them with his favorite things, like Christmas and superheroes.
“He wrote plays about love, about family, good vs. evil, and one about how the Avengers saved Christmas,” Craig-Bourke said. “That one he gave to the drama teacher to read, and she loved it. She was so impressed with it that she decided to have the drama students act it out.”
With the help of drama teacher Cara Schwimer, Walther brought his vision to the stage.
“It was really the kids that did it all,” Schwimer said. “We worked on it during class time and everyone was happy to participate. A lot of them had never been on stage before. But really, every single person in the entire school jumped on board, asking what they could do to help. Putting on a show can be difficult but everyone made it easy.”
Schwimer said Walther told her putting on a play was his dream, and though she was unfamiliar with the Avengers, she agreed to give his script a read. The Avengers are a team of superheroes originating in Marvel comics including Captain America, Iron Man and Thor.
“It turned out the play was very doable,” she said. “It made a lot of sense, how these characters would interact. And the script made it very clear how things should be done. So we decided to take it on.”
The show turned out to be the hottest ticket in town, as hundreds of classmates and teachers asked to attend.
“It was invitation only, but people were begging for an invitation,” Schwimer said. “I made 150 tickets and went right through them. I had to turn people away because I didn’t want to intimidate Jordan and the other actors who have never been on stage with too many people.”
But Schwimer’s concerns turned out to be unfounded.
“With all the love and energy in the room, it just took off. It was the best Christmas gift we could have given ourselves. Everyone walked away feeling good,” Schwimer said. “The students were just amazing, the way they embraced this project and took it seriously. I wasn’t shocked, because I know them, but I was really proud of all of them.”
Walther said he was scared to perform at first, but one he had his costumes on, he quickly felt at ease.
“I’m not even sure I can put in words what it was like to watch. Not even a dream come true, it’s a miracle to me to see my son happy and in his element and just doing something he’s really good at and enjoys,” Craig-Bourke said. “The night before the play he told me, ‘mom, maybe I’ll make some friends now and maybe I’ll be popular.’ So to see him interacting with all of the kids, that was better than winning the lottery.”
Walther agrees, saying he made a lot of friends and the play brought him closer to his dream of becoming a TV celebrity.
After the play, Walther signed autographs for his peers, now fans of his work.
“It was really special,” Craig-Bourke said. “My son actually slept that night. He never sleeps through the night. But since the play he’s been smiling, he’s talking, he’s happy. It’s like an awakening.”
Walther is already working on some follow-ups, including a “good light vs. evil darkness” story featuring a battle involving some of his favorite characters, and one about all of his emotions that he sees as a follow up to the Pixar movie “Inside Out.”
Craig-Bourke said the high school is encouraging her son to look into attending film school.
“To know what he’s gone through and where he’s at now, it’s like night and day,” Craig-Bourke said. “To see him open up, have such confidence and interact with others was nothing short of a Christmas miracle for our family.”
Staff Writer Michael Izzo: 973-428-6636; mizzo@GannettNJ.com