Cody Clark stands on an empty stage in the Bard’s Town theater with a Rubik’s cube in his hand. He bows slightly toward the rows and rows of vacant chairs — his imaginary audience.
“Forty-three quintillion — that’s six-and-a-half billion, times six-and-a-half billion, and it’s the number of possible states this very cube can exist in,” Clark says. “You know, mathematicians have a word for this. It’s called: a lot.”
He pauses for laughter, then says that regardless of its current pattern, the cube can always be solved in 20 moves or less. He begins twisting it and counting aloud.
“… nine, 10,” he says. “And if this don’t work at least no one’s here…11!”
The cube magically pops into order — despite the colors still being scattered on the tenth move. Even from my front-row seat, I can’t tell how he did it. He won’t give away his secrets, but Clark does explain there are three ways to solve a Rubik’s cube.
The first is to memorize a series of complicated algorithms and spend a few months learning how to apply them. You could also cheat and simply unstick the colored squares and reposition them in the correct order.
“There’s also the third method, a method only I can do,” Clark says. “Become autistic!”
This is all part of Clark’s act. I’m sitting in on a rehearsal of his show “Cody Clark: A Different Way of Thinking,” which he’ll perform at The Bard’s Town on November 13. It’s part-standup, part-monologue, part-traditional magic show with card tricks and sleights of hand.
The show acts as an inside look into what it’s like for him living with autism — from childhood diagnosis to his graduation from the University of Louisville.
‘The magic means something’
Clark, 23, was diagnosed with autism when he was 15-months-old after his parents noticed that he stopped responding to his name. He’s been practicing magic since he was 11, ever since he was pulled up on stage by a magician to serve as an assistant.
A few years ago — after practicing on his own for over a decade — Clark wanted to do his own show at the Slant Culture Theatre Festival in Louisville.
“The director was kind enough to say ‘We can’t accept you this year, but here’s what we need to do for next year, which would be to give it its own unique story,’” he says. “And that’s around the time I was coming with the terms of being autistic as an adult. So I decided that maybe if I channeled some of that into what I’m creating, that show would get accepted into Slant.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
“The magic means something,” Clark says. “It’s not just a throw-away, ‘Here’s your card.’ It’s something that can actually move people and the magic becomes a metaphor.”
Here’s an example of one of his tricks: Clark opens a paper bag and beckons me to stick my hand inside. It’s completely empty; but after a few moments of dancing around on stage to a slow swing version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” shaking the bag as he moves, Clark pulls two Velveeta boxes out.
It’s like the old rabbit in the hat trick, but with processed cheese.
Clark says as a kid, whenever he was in the midst of throwing a temper tantrum, his mom would call his grandmother — or his ‘meemaw,’ as Clark calls her. The two would then make macaroni and cheese together.
After a few more minutes of dancing, Clark has pulled a third Velveeta box out of the bag, as well as a bowlful of dried elbow macaroni.
“Ladies and gentlemen, a magical tribute to my meemaw!,” Clark shouts from the stage.
His magic is impressive, but what’s even more so is how open Clark is about his personal triumphs and struggles living with autism.
“Essentially you are born without a lot of the innate programming that most people are born with,” he says. “I do have pretty good social skills, but I’ve had to learn pretty much all of them. So sometimes there are awkward moments and stuff like that. Then for the most part I’m not really that nervous, but sometimes it does come back.”
But despite his occasional nerves, Clark has traveled all over the country for both his magic and his role as a self-advocate. One weekend, he could be on a panel at a medical conference, the next he could be performing a show — but he has one thing to say about autism to audiences at all his events:
“Yes, there are some challenges — like a lot of the social skills issues and all that — but it gives us a lot of strengths too, and that people should just see us as people who can contribute to society,” Clark says. “Not as something to be cured.”