BWW Interview: Risa Brainin And Mickey Rowe of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at Indiana Repertory Theatre
The Indiana Repertory Theatre's current production, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time features a man with autism in the lead role for the first time in an American production. I spoke with the director and lead actor about their experience with the show.
Director: Risa Brainin
As the director of the first American production to feature an autistic in the lead role, what impact do you think this production can have for an audience member with a development disorder?
Mickey Rowe's portrayal of Christopher is so organic and genuine that I think audience members on the autism spectrum will relate to Christopher and perhaps see themselves reflected in some of his behavior. Since the term "autism" is a very large umbrella encompassing a wide range of behaviours, some people may relate to certain aspects of the character, while others connect with a different part of Christopher. The saying goes, "if you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." That said, for the autism community to see an actor on the spectrum play a character on the spectrum has already made a large impact. Inclusion is the first step to erasing stereotypes and stigmas attached to autism.
What did Mickey bring to the role as an autistic actor that another actor might have missed?
Mickey brought his very personal life experience to the role. Of course an actor can play an autistic character, but nothing substitutes for real life experience. I relied on Mickey to make the characteristics of autism genuine. We talked about what stims Christopher might have and together, we made choices that ring true for both the character and Mickey.
You mentioned that the character of Christopher has reactions that are "unencumbered by politics, prejudices, or preconceptions." I our society, where we are often so careful to say the right thing, was it refreshing to work on a piece that allowed you to ignore those restraints?
I love the character of Christopher and how he tells the truth. One of the directions I offered to the other actors was to really be surprised when Christopher answers truthfully. It can be quite disarming to hear the plain truth!
You've spoken about feeling vulnerable in everyday life, so transferring that to your performance on stage comes easily. What do you struggle with as an actor that others might take for granted?
The biggest struggles for me are the hand shakes, small talk, eye contact necessary during an interview and audition with a director that are necessary for getting a role. I can make eye contact no problem on stage! It's harder off stage. Also if the scenes provided for you to read at an audition aren't 18 pt font then I really can't read them and the audition becomes more of a vision test then an audition or experiment to see how me and that director can collaborate together. During this show the hardest part is the grocery shopping, remembering to pay bills, signing contracts, "executive function" type stuff that happen off stage. But I really don't feel effected that much on stage.
You are the first American autistic actor to play the role of Christopher. Did you feel an added pressure because of that!
Absolutely! I feel a pressure to make sure that I use this opportunity for everything that it is worth, for both myself and the disability community at large to show, "Look! We can do amazing work! We can be professional! You can hire us! People with disabilities get the job done!"
Is this the first time you've played a character with a developmental disability?
This is the first time I've gotten to play a character with a developmental disability.
What was it like to bring some of your own experiences to the stage?
I get to feel so myself on stage. In so many ways for me this is the easiest role I've ever gotten to play even though it is the largest. I feel so myself in so many moments on stage.