Aaron Rice sees beauty in autism. And he’s determined to share his view with others. Rice, an actor, producer and director, will embark on a brewery road trip this summer with his 55-year-old autistic uncle Lance Rice of Vermilion.
With a film crew from Rare Brain Studios in Los Angeles in tow, they will travel the Midwest visiting places such as MillerCoors in Milwaukee, Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. in Akron, Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland and National Brewery Museum in Potosi, Wisc.
The journey will be chronicled in the documentary and book Lance’s Brewery Tour.
For Lance, who started collecting beer cans as a teenager and whose passion is brewing history, the trip is a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream to write a beer book.
For Aaron, who has marveled at Lance’s near photographic memory about brewing, it’s an opportunity to create a legacy for his beloved uncle and at the same time change people’s impression of autism.
"There are lots of materials about the heartbreak of autism," Aaron, 32, said in a telephone interview from his Glendale, Calif., home. "There’s not a lot out there about the beauty of it and this is a beautiful story. It’s one that I think can give families hope that growth and development are possible. That dreams can come true for autistic individuals."
Autism, a neurological disorder, affects social interaction, communication and behavior. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 1 in 88 children have some form of autism.
Earlier this month, which also is National Autism Awareness Month, Rare Brain launched a Kickstarter campaign online — complete with a video of Lance (see video blelow) — to raise $130,000 for the documentary by May 8. As of Thursday morning, nearly $9,000 had been pledged.
Once the film is completed, Aaron, who grew up in Vermilion, will pursue international distribution.
Even if donations fall short, Aaron said they will find a way to make the film.
Aaron, who has performed with Second City in Chicago and Los Angeles, compared his uncle to Forrest Gump, the dim-witted character played by Tom Hanks in the movie of the same name.
Lance, wearing glasses and an Ohio State University sweatshirt, is shown in the online video recounting the exact date that he found his first beer can, Burger, on Kelleys Island.
Lance whose hair is graying, also talks about belonging to breweriana associations and random history about different breweries.
He becomes excited as Aaron tells him on camera that they will travel to breweries.
"Sure," he says. "Sounds good. Sounds good. Cause I’ve been wanting to do this for a long, long time."
In a recent story published in the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, Lance said he’s excited about the upcoming trip.
"The MillerCoors brewery in Milwaukee, Wisc., we’re going to visit and the Goose Island brewery in Chicago and the Latrobe in Latrobe, Pa., which is Pittsburgh Brewing Co.," he told the newspaper. "I really haven’t visited as many breweries in a long, long time. With this, I’m looking forward to it."
Aaron knows the documentary will not be easy to make.
Despite his intelligence, Lance won’t take elevators. He borders on being agoraphobic and doesn’t do well around strangers.
Rare Brain has rigged a system to keep the film crew and cameras out of sight because Lance acts different when the cameras are around.
"It’s really going to be a struggle for Lance to get out of his comfort zone," Rare Brain Executive Vice President Chris Thomas said.
Lance’s passion for beer started as a teenager when his brother Craig began collecting beer cans. He copied the hobby and that’s when he found that Burger can.
Forty years later, Lance has more than 4,000 cans on display in his mother’s home, where he lives.
He enjoys beer and has a refined palate. He can tell you how the beer was brewed, the hops used and flavor profile.
"He really likes Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland because he’s loyal to Ohio," Aaron said.
A Great Lakes mirror hangs in his bedroom.
He also enjoys Guinness and prefers beers with bolder flavors.
The film project stems from Aaron’s holiday trips back to Vermilion. He and Lance would sit together and watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve.
Each year, Aaron would ask Lance his New Year’s resolution. And each year it was the same.
"He wanted to get married and have children and write a book," Aaron said. "He said the same thing over and over."
With his career in the entertainment industry, Aaron said he has the ability to help one of those dreams come true.
"I hope it gives him something to be proud of," he said, his voice cracking with emotion. "The most difficult thing to watch and observe as a family member is that he’s emotionally mature. He’s lost his father. He knows he’s not married. He knows he didn’t go to college. He knows he lives with his mother.
"But he doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to work beyond the hurt and the confusion. And as happy as he is sometimes, it’s hard for him to understand what his purpose is.
"On a personal level, what I hope happens is that he has a mile marker in his life that he can look back on and know that he accomplished something that he thought about for his entire adult life."
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