Elijah Shaheen has wanted to be a filmmaker for most of his 14 years.
The Montrose teen is a huge fan of movies, so it made sense that when he wrote a play it would be called “The Movie Story.”
Given that he is a big Mel Brooks fan, it should come as no surprise that the greedy corporate villain in Shaheen’s play is named Joan Freealeshock, which rhymes with Bialystock, the name of the larger-than-life character in Brooks’ “The Producers.”
Shaheen’s creation will grace the stage of Blueberry Pond Theater Ensemble in Ossining this weekend with a cast of teens from across the Lower Hudson Valley.
“The Movie Story” is about a video store that is about to go bust, until four film characters — Inspector Clouseau from “The Pink Panther,” Tigress from “Kung Fu Panda,” Amelia Earhart from “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” and Willy Wonka from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” — materialize to save the day.
The video-store owner, Mr. Ferguson — “kinda like Craig Ferguson,” Shaheen says — is “a bit of an old-aged man who’s very wise and honest and sometimes a bit quirky and funny.”
Yes, Mr. Ferguson is “quirky” — in a way Shaheen can appreciate.
Mr. Ferguson has Asperger’s syndrome.
So does Shaheen.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects how a child responds to social cues. A child with Asperger’s will be awkward around others or will show a single-minded obsession on a particular subject, such as baseball statistics or train schedules.
Doctors consider Asperger’s an “autistic spectrum disorder” that makes it difficult for children to show empathy for others or to read and understand others’ emotions.
But here is Shaheen, rehearsing his cast of a dozen or so teens in a converted Victorian home in Peekskill that has been renamed, appropriately, Infinite Possibilities.
He leads the actors through a warmup exercise in which they throw away all their stresses and focus on the work of creating characters, ending with a repeated mantra: “Anything is possible. Everything is OK.”
Shaheen says having a character with Asperger’s was OK, too.
“Since I am one who has Asperger’s, I just thought ‘Why not?’ I’m actually working on the challenges. I’ve actually improved on some.”
Shaheen’s mother, acting coach Elizabeth Browning, credits her son’s turnaround to the Tomatis Method treatment he received at the Spectrum Center in Tuxedo.
Tomatis — developed by a French ear-nose-and-throat doctor — involves a reprogramming of auditory processes, training the ear to filter sound and to differentiate sounds more readily.
Before the treatment, Shaheen says, all of the sounds in a room would combine to create a wall of static in his head. After the treatment — which involved Shaheen listening to music at different frequencies and patterns to create different neural pathways in the brain — the static was gone.
“It’s giving the brain the training it lacked early on,” Browning says.
While Browning says the treatment isn’t for everyone, she says the results she saw with her son were dramatic.
From January to April, “It’s like he was awakened.”
Asked what it’s like to see her long-withdrawn son openly engaging and working with actors on a script he wrote, Browning’s voice catches.
“I’m really moved,” she says, her eyes beginning to brim with tears. “He’s such a good guy and he’s so good with his actors. He makes everybody feel good about themselves.”
He drew his cast from his former school, Our Montessori School in Yorktown; from Blue Mountain Middle School in Cortlandt Manor; and from a network of families who home-school their children.
Shaheen got the germ of the story’s idea when his local Blockbuster closed down.
Shaheen likes that his story deals with the power of the arts — in this case, movies — overcoming the corporate bottom line. He also likes that he and his peers are telling that story.
“Since it’s directed and written by a kid and it’s all kids performing, we just want to show the world what kids can do,” he says, adding the cast has come up with an acronym that spells out what they hope people who see the show will say: OMGTAK.
“It stands for ‘Oh My Gosh! These Are Kids,’ ” Shaheen says proudly.
Photo by Mark Vergari/The Journal News: 14-year-old Elijah Shaheen from Montrose, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, center, performs the part of “Skippy” as he and the cast rehearse the play “The Movie Story,” that he wrote and directed, during rehearsals at Infinite Possibilities in Peekskill, Aug. 11, 2010. The play will be performed at Blueberry Pond in Ossining, Aug. 20, 21 and 22..
“The Movie Story”
When: 8 p.m., Aug. 20, 21; 2 and 7 p.m., Aug. 22.
Where: Blueberry Pond’s Laylon Theater, 235 Cedar Lane, Ossining.
Tickets: $18; $15 children
Call: 877-FOR-4TIX or the Smarttix website.