Lori Adams ends each day of her five-week adventure in New York the same way: writing in her diary.

Adams, Illinois State University’s head of acting in the School of Theatre and Dance, is making her off-Broadway directorial debut with Falling, a play about a family dealing with autism that opens October 15.

When Adams returns from her teaching leave the very next day, October 16, she’ll use that diary to share her real-world experience about commercial theater with her students.

“That puts you right out there, on the cutting edge,” Adams said. “It’s not just hearsay.”

Adams directed the first-ever production of Falling at the Mustard Seed Theatre in St. Louis in September 2011. The show was a hit, and its initial run was extended twice.

Then, a producer named Terry Schnuck saw Falling and told those involved that more people needed to see it. He spent the next year setting up the off-Broadway production, for which previews begin September 27 at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Not every Midwest production is lucky enough to be plucked for a run in New York, but Adams says the play, about how an 18-year-old’s autism affects the lives around him, stands out because it touches on such a universal theme – family.

“It’s about autism, but more importantly, it’s about family,” Adams told STATEside. “It’s about loving someone who is difficult to love.”

This is Adams’ first time working in commercial theater. She says it’s a little different going to production meetings with press agents and lawyers in the room, though it’s nice to have a little more flexibility on the production budget when the set needs something or a prop has to be purchased. The “fabulous” St. Louis cast was able to audition for the New York production this summer along with hundreds of other actors, but ultimately “Falling” was recast, she said.

“The nuance and skill level – it’s amazing,” Adams said. “It’s amazing to work with (the new cast).”

For now, Adams is living in a small apartment with the playwright, Deanna Jent, just a few blocks away from the theater in New York’s Greenwich Village. “I feel like I live here now,” she said.

In addition to bringing back to students a window into the commercial theater world, Adams said she’s also networking with those in New York who could eventually hire her students – for an internship, or maybe something more. Plus, the School of Theatre and Dance’s head of production/design area, John Stark, also designed the New York set for “Falling.”

“Ultimately, everything goes back to what we teach,” Adams said.

A group from Illinois State will be heading to New York to see the October 14 performance of “Falling,” and Adams and Stark will be on hand. You can get access to discounted tickets for that performance.

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@ilstu.edu.