By Joanna Reid
The Theatre Department teamed up with Bridges to Adelphi from November 1 to 6 in the Performing Arts Center (PAC) to put on productions of the play “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,” adapted from the novel by Mark Haddon. They produced a “relaxed performance” for neurodivergent people and those who may experience sensory overload. The show stayed true to the book, while still being accommodating of all audience members.
“Curious Incident” tells the story of Christopher Boone, an autistic teenager who wants to uncover the mystery of who murdered the neighbor’s dog. While the mystery unfolds, Christopher discovers a lot more; how to navigate life when things get difficult.
Before the show a sensory guide was handed out to allow guests to familiarize themselves with the area and explain where the exits were. A quiet room was also provided for audience members in the PAC cafe if one needed to step out. Assistants from Bridges to Adelphi, the academic support program for students on the autism spectrum, with neurological disorders or who are nonverbal, sat in on the show to help those who needed directions to the restroom or the quiet room.
The director Margaret Lally and Diana Damiatis-Kull, director of the Bridges to Adelphi program, worked closely to ensure that there were no surprises for audience members. The show began with cast members introducing themselves and the characters they were portraying. Lally also warned the audience about the dog carcass prop used in the show. Additionally, music and sound effects were kept at a lower volume and the house lights were kept on throughout the show to allow guests to see clearly. Another thing the department did to make the show more inclusive was tone down the violence and lighting as not to trigger anyone or give anyone sensory overload.
“During the relaxed performance we wanted to make sure we were being responsive to all different needs,” Damilatis-Kull said. “In order to do so, I attended a previous showing and tried to take into account various sensory potential issues as well as content issues.”
For this show, it was very important to have the lead role of Chistopher Boone be portrayed by someone who is neurodivergent because it's clear that he has autism. As a neurodivergent person himself, Rafael Lyrio, a junior acting major, was cast in the lead role.
Lyrio said he was honored to take on the role.
“I can understand Christopher’s social awkwardness and how complex it is for him to navigate the neurotypical world. Playing Christopher is a dream come true. Christopher is brave, determined, feisty and honest. He never gives up, even when he becomes overwhelmed and overstimulated. His perseverance and determination is what I most admire about him.”
The acting from the entire cast was phenomenal. Lyrio was able to display the discomfort that someone who has autism may feel, without making it stereotypical.
The story takes place in the United Kingdom, so it was confusing why the actors were expected to use American accents. This reviewer wishes that added lighting was used for the scene when Christopher’s mother was revealed (like in the Broadway production), but it’s understandable why this was toned down for viewers that experience sensory overload.
Taking on this show was not easy, but Lally hopes audience members felt represented.
“I appreciate the support from Diana and Bridges and Aubrey Therrien and Epic Players (a neuro-inclusive theatre company in New York City) in telling this story with some authenticity, in addition to them sharing best practices for working with neurodivergent actors. I would like our community to be invested in inclusivity as well as accessibility for our growing neurodivergent community,” Lally said. “Maybe people will leave with a better understanding of the gifts and challenges of the neurodivergent mind and maybe it will encourage a curiosity about ways they can be more inclusive in day-to-day encounters with neurodivergent people.”
Damiatis-Kull agreed that not only did audience members gain representation and get to enjoy a show in a safe environment, but it also allowed others to learn more about the neurodiverse community.
“We hope that others can understand a unique perspective of Christopher and the world around him. We hope that the entire audience is able to enjoy this show which is why we felt the need to create a relaxed performance,” she said. “A relaxed performance is not just for the audience to feel more supported with sensory related needs, but also for the cast to understand how to navigate through various situations whether it’s someone pacing in the back or perhaps someone calling out during the show because of their engrossment in the show.”