BWW Interviews: Debut of the Month: CURIOUS INCIDENT's Alex Sharp
Juilliard graduate Alex Sharp is making his Broadway debut in The National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The actor portrays Christopher, a 15 year-old who has an extraordinary brain, is exceptionally intelligent but is ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. When he falls under suspicion for killing his neighbor's dog, he sets out to identify the true culprit, which leads to an earth-shattering discovery and a journey that will change his life forever.
Today the actor speaks exclusively to BWW about making his Broadway debut in this physically, mentally and emotionally demanding role.
Alex, this show marks not only your Broadway debut, but your very first professional role as well. I imagine that must have been a lot to take in at first.
Yes, it was pretty crazy honestly. It took a while to get used to, but it's been an amazing experience. But yes, it was alot to handle, but I have such a supportive group of people around me, both the cast and the crew.
How did your casting come about?
Well I was still at Julliard, I hadn't graduated yet, and I didn't have an agent or a manager. But Kathy Hood at Julliard administration had sort of recommended me to [casting director] Daniel Swee and also a friend of mine who was a reader in the room recommended me, so I kind of got in there through friends really. Very lucky!
What would you say were some of the biggest challenges you encountered when you first began rehearsals?
Well the show is so physically demanding, it took time to execute the blocking, the choreography etcetera because I never leave the stage for two and a half hours. And also I have a fully-connected, emotional role, so it's challenging to do both at the same time. That was the biggest thing to get under my belt.
Well it is very unusual to see so much choreography in a play. And some of the moves you have to execute seem very precarious.
Yes, they are [laughing] There's no play that I can think of or that I've seen that demands just so much. And yes, some of the things are pretty risky so I have to be very focused every night or else I get injured.
I would imagine the first few times you tried some of those moves must have been scary.
Yes it was, for sure!
I heard you were a big fan of the book, you had read it when you were younger, and I assume you have read it again since you were cast.
Yes, I read it quite a few times once I had been cast, because it sort of became the Bible for me, sort of the thing I went to when I had questions about what I was doing. It was sort of the best source of information when I was developing the character.
It's interesting, when people hear that the book has been turned into a stage production, they often ask, 'how did they possibly do that?' and yet it made such a seamless transition to the stage. What do you attribute that to?
[Playwright] Simon Stephens. Simon coming up with the idea of bringing the character of Siobhan, his teacher, to life as the narrator, and just the way that Simon writes plays. He brought the human, the family story of it to life in such a beautiful way. And then also the visionary direction of Marianne Elliott, she's so visual and she's so willing to take risks, and those are two things that are needed for something like this.
One of the other unusual things about the show is the way almost all of your senses are stimulated as you watch. It was such a creative way for the audience to understand what actually goes through Christopher's mind. But I'm wondering if all that sensory stimulation is helpful or distracting for you as an actor on stage.
It is helpful in a way but I do find it very overwhelming. The strobes and the different projections, which I can't see, they're sort of like a blur of light to me. And for someone who is actually quite light-sensitive in real life, it was pretty overwhelming - the loud music, it's pretty unpleasant honestly, but also very helpful.
I know a few months ago you did a special performance of the show for children with autism. That must have been an unique experience.
It was, yes for all of us. It was the most impactful and meaningful experience I've ever had in the theater. And then the talk-back at the end, it is very hard to articulate, but it was very moving.
I assume certain adjustments were made for the performance, as far as the lighting and other visuals.
Yes the lighting, the strobes were cut out, some of the bright lights were dimmed, the house lights were kept up slightly for the whole show, the sounds were decreased in intensity, the fight scene was sort of decreased in intensity, things like that.
You've had such an interesting childhood yourself, living in countries all over the world. Do you bring all those different experieces to your portrayal of Christopher?
Definitely, yes. I bring everything I have as Alex, anything I can possibly use I bring to Christopher. Because when you have a character who's so complex and beautiful and feels like there is endless discovery to be done, you just have to keep digging and using what you have. But also, I struggled a lot in school for various reasons and I use those challenges I had in school as well.
One of the most interesting things in the show was to learn how Christopher sees the world, and his interpretation really made perfect sense to me.
Yes, well he's a genius, the way he sees the world is so unique, it makes him a true utilitarian. You can really empathize with a lot of what he goes through.
Can you speak a little bit about your talented group of cast mates?
They are truly unbelievable. I really feel so incredibly lucky, not just to be with such talented actors, but they are people of such high caliber that it is such an honor to share a stage with them. Just such genuine, kind, supportive, lovely people. I don't think it would be possible to do this show that is so finessed and choreographed down to the moment without all of them - it is truly an ensemble work. And there's no one who is not a part of the family, even backstage. It's really a beautiful thing. And they are all very different types of actors from each other, but they are all incredibly gifted and I've learned lots of different things from each one of them.
Can you remember back to the night when you made your Broadway debut and what that experience was like?
I remember the first preview, because the one that we had done before that was a dress rehearsal. It wasn't an invited dress, there was literally no one in the audience. So to go from that, zero people, to 1,100 people was the most high-adrenalyn experience, it was insane! I don't know how to describe it. I thought I was going to be sick, and pass out at the same time! And I had no idea, you know we had done so much work, but I had no idea how it was going to be received, so I was very nervous, very nervous. Yes, that was a night that I will never forget!
About Alex Sharp:
Alex Sharp was born in London but grew up traveling constantly. He closed out his time at Juilliard (from which he graduates end of May) playing Hally in Athol Fugard's Master Harold...and the Boys, while simultaneously directing a production of A Clockwork Orangethe play, which he also adapted.
The National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is on Broadway at the Barrymore Theatre. The acclaimed new play by Simon Stephens, adapted from Mark Haddon's best-selling novel, directed by Tony Award-winner Marianne Elliott, officially opened on October 5, 2014.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME stars Juilliard graduate Alex Sharp in his Broadway debut as Christopher, Ian Barford(August: Osage County) as Ed, Helen Carey (London Assurance, Tony nomination and Theatre World Award) as Mrs. Alexander, Francesca Faridany (The 39 Steps) as Siobhan and Enid Graham (The Constant Wife) as Judy. The ensemble includes Jocelyn Bioh (An Octoroon at Soho Rep), Mercedes Herrero (The Laramie Project and its sequel),Richard Hollis (Hit-Lit at Queens Theatre), Ben Horner (War Horse) and David Manis (War Horse). Taylor Trensch (Matilda the Musical) will play Christopher at certain performances. The company also includes Keren Dukes, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Tom Patrick Stephens and Tim Wright.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME transferred to London's West End, following a sold-out run at the National's Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. The production received seven 2013 Olivier Awards, including Best New Play and continues to play to sold-out houses at the Gielgud Theatre in London.
For tickets and more information visit: http://www.curiousonbroadway.com/
Photo credit: Joan Marcus