When Windham entrepreneur and autism activist Stephanie Lay died suddenly in February 2020, it was documentarians Lauren Shaw and Karlina Lyons who found her. Arriving at the home Lay shared with her teenage son, Bryce, the couple had come prepared with checklists, questions and plans to continue their work on the film about Lay’s life caring for Bryce, gravely. autism, and starting the Maine-Texan Grilled Salsa home salsa business.
Instead, Shaw and Lyons called 911 to report that Lay was cold on the ground, and as first responders arrived, director Shaw and producer Lyons looked at each other in shock and denial. What drew filmmakers to this woman’s story was Lay’s seemingly tireless and unstoppable drive. To make a fulfilling life for Bryce, to overcome the obstacles faced by a single mother of an autistic child, and to grow the business she started in part to make room for Bryce and other autistic Mainers to win their life.
“We thought it was over,” recalls Shaw, filmmaker (“Maine Women: Living on the Land,” “Angkor’s Children”) and professor at Emerson College. And while the filmmakers worked on their film, now titled “Routine interrupted“, since Shaw first sought out Lay in 2017 (in order to get a few cases of Maine-Tex for his daughter’s wedding), Lay’s death certainly seemed to doom what had turned into history. inspirational story about a mother’s love and perseverance.
It wasn’t until then, in the days following Lay’s death, that the filmmakers discovered just how much bigger and deeper Stephanie Lay’s story was.
“We went to his service fully imagining it was done,” Millinocket-born Lyons said, “But everyone we met there said, ‘You can’t stop. We had no idea this community existed until his death. Shaw added, “His friends just got out of carpentry.”
Speaking to Lay’s wide circle of friends and other parents of autistic children, Shaw and Lyons came to see how their subject’s dedication and activism extended not only to Bryce, but creating a community of support that she herself never had.
“There was no support for mothers of autistic children in Maine. So she made one,” Lyons said.
Having access to Lay’s diary and endless hours of video of herself and Bryce, as well as her voluminous correspondence with others on Facebook, the filmmakers set out to chronicle Lay’s daily mission to support of her son and other parents and children in similar situations. .
“Everyone at every state agency knew her,” Shaw said of Lay’s legendary dedication. “She had been interviewed all over the local news and was working on an autobiography with a Boston Globe writer. And it wasn’t all because of her ego – it was simply because of her tenacity and her belief that a single mother with an autistic son, with the help of a community, could raise an amazing child.
Launching Maine-Tex Grilled Salsa as a way to bring Bryce’s love of barbecue to their home, Lay eventually contacted Doug Mercier, the store manager at Hannaford in West Falmouth, to stock the homemade product. From there, Maine-Tex was sold in some 61 Hannaford stores, as well as more than a hundred others statewide, with Lay employing other autistic Mainers in its production and setting up a foundation to help to defend other people like Bryce. .
But if that feel-good story is what drew the filmmakers to Stephanie Lay, the tragedy of her sudden death only served to expand their film to encompass the enormous imprint left by Lay’s life.
“We got to know her in a very different way than if she had lived,” said Shaw, currently busy in post-production on “Routine Interrupted.” “We first knew her as this community-minded warrior, this unbelieving mother. But by having access to her diary and meeting other members of the community, we saw that she had two sides, that she faced personal struggles, health problems. The film was about the relationship between her and Bryce. And while that’s certainly that now, it’s also about who she was and is for the community and for Maine.
Lyons added: “The movie goes to the characters and not just the situation. It’s about who they are as people.
Shaw and Lyons are currently editing what they plan to be a 30-minute finished film together and are raising money through the film’s website for completion funds. As Shaw says in reference to Lay’s many hours of home movies of her life with Bryce (who currently lives with loving guardians in Portland), “Stephanie did most of the pre-production work. We have been working on it for three years. Stephanie had worked there for 19 years.
And as they anticipate “Routine Interrupted” to premiere at Maine’s prestigious Camden International Film Festival this fall, Shaw hopes Stephanie Lay’s story will expand its reach beyond the festival circuit.
“I would love to see him travel to organizations that help families,” Shaw said, and Lyons added, “As filmmakers, we’re always looking for opportunities where we can serve a purpose.”
You can visit the “Interrupted Routine” website at routineinterruptedfilm.comwhere you can learn more about Stephanie and Bryce Lay, and find links to donate towards the making of the film.
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.
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