BWW Interview: CURIOUS INCIDENT's Iain Kohn Owning His Autism & His New Doppelganger Role
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, winner of both a Tony and an Olivier for Best Play, has already begun previews at the Greenway Court Theatre, with opening night set for November 8, 2019. Uber-smart, but socially inept, 15-year-old Christopher finds a dog's carcass in the middle of the night and frantically attempts to clear his inevitable blame by solving the dog's murder. Kate Jopson directs an ensemble led by newcomer Iain Kohn in the pivotal role of Christopher, a boy who exhibits signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder. I had the chance to pitch a few questions to Iain.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Iain!
Had you seen a production of CURIOUS INCIDENT before?
Yes; I saw the Broadway production in 2016, and met the understudy actor portraying Christopher, Benjamin Wheelwright. It was a surreal experience seeing someone with my mental condition portrayed on the stage. The story's poignancy got me so emotional to the point where I had to try to hide how I really felt about it. It was a spectacular production with a phenomenal directorial vision.
So what crazy forces of nature brought you together with this Greenway Arts Alliance production? Was performing at Da Poetry Lounge a contributing factor?
I was introduced to the casting director of a film adaptation of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT that is currently in the works, and I auditioned for Christopher's role. I didn't get the part, but the casting director then introduced me to this play's casting director and asked me to audition again for Christopher's role. I happily took the opportunity.
My times performing at Da Poetry Lounge made me familiar with the Greenway Court Theater, where we will be performing; but the circumstances that brought me into this project were completely separate from my connection to Da Poetry Lounge. It was just a coincidence, but perhaps I can say that it shows I was destined to come back to the Lounge eventually after the two years or so since I last performed poetry there.
Have you worked with any of the CURIOUS INCIDENT cast or creatives before?
No; I hadn't met any of them being casted. This is my first acting gig, ever. But to say that I'd like to work with these people again sometime is an understatement. They're my second family now.
I viewed two YouTube videos of you performing your poem Terrified of People- one from Button Poetry in December 2015, and the other from Get Lit in 2017. I saw such a different grasp of maturity in the second one. Would love to see you perform it today. So, how old were you when you started getting up on stage speaking/performing?
I began performing poetry soon after I turned fourteen. The performances from my younger days in spoken word poetry showed my inner struggles more emphatically than I do in my more recent work. That's a consequence of me simply maturing as I get older.
I'd say, though, that my onstage persona hasn't changed much. I never have gotten stage fright, even when I first performed a poem out loud. I hope this fact shows my potential as an actor in the future!
I just read an interview that Patti LuPone recently gave. She says she is fearless on stage, but paranoid and terrified off. Do you find being onstage a safe place for you to be fearless?
Absolutely. I am my boldest self onstage, and often my most daring. Nothing satisfies me more than eliciting a reaction from a crowd-be it laughter, applause, or just a loud uproar.
As one who has Asperger's, do you feel you understand your role of Christopher deeper than an actor without?
Being autistic, it's easier for me than it might be for others to understand the emotional forces that drive Christopher's behavior, since I acted very similarly to Christopher when I was younger. For example, Christopher's strong dislikes of seemingly random things is an autism spectrum symptom I have experienced too, such as my childhood hatred of button-down shirts, zippers, and getting haircuts. I also to this day experience sensory overload, which is extreme anxiety produced by multiple different sensory stimuli that fire off at once, such as multiple people talking over each other. My autism's symptoms made me have to rely on services from one-on-one aides from preschool to the first semester of my high school sophomore year.
These are experiences and personality quirks that are very different from the average person's. I don't trust most people to immediately understand how I operate as a person, nor do I expect them to learn any time soon after they meet me. I am still exploring my strengths and weaknesses. Christopher's character is a medium through which to convey that message effectively.
What do you find is the one main misconception people have of Asperger's Syndrome?
Autistic people, wherever they are on the spectrum, are not all low-functioning people who need to be dependent on others to live their daily lives. It is equally possible for an autistic person to be of a genius-level IQ as it is for them to be of average or below-average intelligence. It is also possible for autistic people to gradually phase out of their challenges so that others aren't able to tell as easily that they have autism. I am one of those people, so I was told.
If you were to coach someone to relate more effectively with someone with Asperger's, what would your main suggestions be?
If they are keeping to themselves, don't assume that they always actually want to be on their own. For me at least, keeping to myself and sitting separately from others is often a protection mechanism from being embarrassed due to social awkwardness. Say, 'Hello!' We appreciate it! Or at least I would!
Many autistic people simply do not like being around others. I am not one of those people.
Can you share some fun, proud memories you have of representing Los Angeles as a Youth Poetry Ambassador from 2015 to 2017?
The Youth Poetry Ambassador is really just an honorary title, and it mostly has played out for me as a convenient way to be associated with the Youth Poet Laureate. Ambassadors may be asked to perform alongside the Laureate, and that's pretty much it. My time with Get Lit: Words Ignite, the spoken word poetry education non-profit I've worked with since 2014, has been far more eventful and exciting. I'll hold onto the memories of performing at Dodgers Stadium, working with Bob Dylan's son's media team for video shoots, going to Brave New Voices, and everything else I've done with Get Lit for the rest of my life.
Aside from working on your degrees in creative writing and film from CSUN, what else do you have on your plate?
Aside from the occasional performance or film production gig that Get Lit and others help me find, I've got nothing else to do! Besides, university is time-consuming and stressful enough; I'd happily fill in all the breaks in my schedule by playing video games. Everyone needs something to help decompress!
What feelings would you like the Greenway Court Theatre audiences to leave with after your curtain call?
We have worked extremely hard to make this play come to life. I'd love more than anything for everyone who watches our play to walk out of the theater to simply think, "That was a great show." I aim to entertain, and entertain I shall.
Thank you again, Iain! I look forward to experiencing your Christopher.
For ticket availability and show schedule through December 8, 2019; log onto GreenwayCourtTheatre.org