BWW Q&A: J Scott Lapp of The San Diego Preimere of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at CCAE Theatricals

On stage February 16th through March 3rd, 2024.

By: Jan. 29, 2024
BWW Q&A: J Scott Lapp of The San Diego Preimere of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at CCAE Theatricals

We sat down with director J Scott Lapp as he prepares to direct The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at CCAE Theatricals.

Winner of the 2015 Tony Award for Best New Play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a “dazzling, pulse-pounding and remarkable” (Time Out New York) adaptation of Mark Haddon’s internationally best-selling novel. Fifteen-year-old Christopher has an extraordinary brain and is very gifted at math.

He is exceptionally intelligent, but unfortunately ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. When he falls under suspicion for killing the neighbor’s dog, Christopher is determined to identify the culprit in true Sherlock Holmes style, which leads him on a thrilling journey across London that will change his life forever. A thrilling, heartwarming and uplifting theatrical event! 

Nestled in the heart of North County San Diego, the center offers a diverse array of programming, including exhibitions, concerts, theatrical performances, educational initiatives, and community events. CCAE Theatricals, Inc. is based in Escondido, California and is driven by a mission to preserve, strengthen, and advance Musical Theater as a social and cultural platform by nurturing compelling, high-caliber theatrical artistry.

As both a laboratory for theatrical exploration and a producer of plays that expand the boundaries of theatrical form, we support innovative projects that are aesthetically, thematically, and methodologically diverse for diverse audiences. The Dorris Staples Theatrical Conservatory was established as a workforce development program for aspiring theater professionals in response to the urgent need for representation within historically elite theater spaces.

What inspired you to bring The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to San Diego for its premiere?

When I first saw this show on Broadway in November 2015 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, I was overwhelmed with emotion and sat quietly in awe of the transformational story I just witnessed. It was a story of love, family and bravery in the most unlikely of environments. It’s part mystery story, part family drama, part young-adult adventure tale - but mostly it’s a demonstration of the power of theater to tell incredible stories. After directing the show in Michigan at Farmers Alley in the Spring of 2019, I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to bring the show to San Diego. To my surprise, I discovered that Curious Incident had never played San Diego, and we had this incredible opportunity to introduce this piece to our region. It is storytelling at its finest and a remarkable work of theatre that resonates with both young and old audiences. It's a story about difference. Everyone feels like it's their story, because it's very personal and we all see a little bit of Christopher in ourselves.

Can you tell us more about your experience directing the show in Michigan at Farmers Alley and how that might influence your direction for this premiere?

When I directed the piece in Michigan at Farmers Alley Theater, I worked hand-in-hand with the Artistic Director there, Jeremy Koch, on transforming their space to really put the audience "inside of Christopher's mind". They have a really unique setup there in Kalamazoo, the space is very adaptable, so you can reconfigure the seating and stage to support the design choices that are made for the show. It's a very intimate theater space, so we were able to surround the audience with design elements that allowed them to experience what Christopher is feeling from a first-hand perspective. Every choice that we made from sound, lighting to projections all came from Christopher's viewpoint so the story felt very supportive in allowing the audience a window into what a character like Christopher, who identifies as someone on the Autism spectrum, might experience in the journey he makes from Swindon to London. Very proud of that production which was nominated for 5 2019 Wilde Awards including Best Play.

What are some of the unique challenges and rewards of staging a show like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?

Christopher lives in a world which is very logical. A world in which he struggles to understand peopleʼs emotions, or their facial expressions or their metaphors. In some way his world is very straight forward, itʼs black and white, but in other ways he is a very gifted thinker. Itʼs extraordinary and dramatic and very complicated. And it takes the audience completely by surprise. The lack of stage directions and physical scenery in the script, means that the action could just be blown open! There is so much movement in the piece, itʼs actually quite technical! The Multi sensory approach of the production allows us to explain to the audience what it must be like to experience the many sensations Christopher experiences. Inside Christopherʼs head you can go anywhere, so you can shoot off into the atmosphere and be amongst the galaxies. The show also jump-cuts in the story, so we had to be able to do that in a very agile way. We have to be able to follow Christopher at the same speed that his brain works. Working with Daniel Patrick Russell who is playing Christopher for us in this production has been incredibly rewarding. Daniel is an autistic actor originally from Umina Beach, Australia. He was recently seen on Broadway in The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. Daniel also appeared in Steven Spielberg’s critically acclaimed film West Side Story. He's an incredible dancer. So he brings an element of that training into the piece which I don't think has really been done before. When Christopher recounts these memories or dreams of going into outer space and detecting, the dance element allows Christopher to thrive and communicate in a new way that he normally isn't capable of. Daniel brings a real authenticity to Christopher because of his lived experience. He has helped shape so many moments throughout the process that will illuminate Christopher's experience and journey in a new and thrilling way.

What can audiences expect from the sensory-friendly performances of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?

From the very start of our process, months before we cast the show, we hired Marcy Fibrow, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who is the Regional Clinical Director at The Center for Autism and Related Disorders, LLC. (CARD). I knew that if we were going to produce a show like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, we would need to partner with those working directly in the field. Marcy has been an incredible resource for our Creative Team and Cast and continues to work with us during the rehearsal process. We have also partnered with The Autism Society of San Diego and The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopment Disorders to provide literature in the lobby for our audiences as well as curate some pre-show events during the run. One of those events that became clear that we needed to offer our community, were special Access Performances. Access or Sensory Friendly performances are a theater production that welcomes individuals with sensory needs, including people on the autism spectrum, as well as first-time theatergoers and young children. Modifications often include: lower sound levels, especially for startling or loud sounds, and lower lighting levels for moments with bright or flashing lights. The show is modified to allow for patron movement with house lights left on at a low-level, staff and actors are trained to accommodate patron needs, and all patrons are welcome to experience theater in a safe, non-judgmental environment. There will be a quiet section reserved in the lobby for those that need to step out during the performance. Sensory Friendly Performance Friday, February 23rd at 7:30p Saturday, March 2nd at 2p

You have an impressive record of directing both nationally and internationally. How do these experiences influence your work as an Artistic Director at CCAE Theatricals?

I've been very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work on some incredible productions over the years, that have spanned not only multiple years but have also taken me across the United States and abroad. Shows that have started off here in San Diego at the La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe and have gone on to national acclaim. Getting to work on shows at the highest-level and with creatives and designers that are at the top of their game, help shape your own perspective, experiences and the kind of work I choose to put my energy towards. At CCAE Theatricals, I have guided our focus and programming away from the commercial work that is done by some of our neighbors. In our first two seasons, we have programmed shows that are less produced (The Light in the Piazza), more sought after by artists (Sunday in the Park with George), and the results and feedback from our patrons have proved those decisions are the right path moving forward. We have focused more on new works (Witnesses, Bottle Shock! The Musical) developing shows through Readings and Developmental Workshops and will continue to foster that environment in Escondido. There is no substitute for real-world experience and having had the opportunity to work internationally on multiple shows, has given me an added perspective into the incredible work that comes out of London and the West End. Curious Incident is a show that came from The National Theatre in London, before making a big splash on Broadway, and having real relationships with those working in those venues has greatly influenced the type of work and theatre I like to produce.

Can you share your thoughts on the transition of CCAE Theatricals from an in-house program to an independent non-profit organization and how this might affect future productions?

When we formally announced the transition back in August of the former, in-house theatrical producing program known as CCAE Theatricals into an independent non-profit organization, we knew we were going to have our work cut out for us. It was a big shift from working with The California Center for the Arts, Escondido to then becoming our own autonomous nonprofit. It meant we had to file the paperwork, set up our business structure and model, explain to our patrons what was happening and start to build our donor base all over again. It also afforded us the opportunity to create A+ Theatricals specific board and team to help support our programming. We are now a completely separate entity from the CCAEF although we continue to produce the majority of our work at the Center as the resident professional theatre company. The relationships with the City of Escondido and the surrounding business are of utmost important to us as we look to build on the growth and excitement of our first two years and carry that over into this next phase of our new nonprofit company.

With CCAE Theatricals now being an independent entity, what are some of your plans or goals for the organization?

In this next phase of becoming our own nonprofit, we are working hard to meet the demands and requests we receive from our community partners. Tom Abruzzo, our Director of Education and Engagement, is building out our theatrical Conservatory with Masterclasses with professionals in all disciplines of the field, to programming and scheduling camps with our various education partners. We continue to produce our Mainstage series with 3-4 musicals and plays in each season. Our Spotlight Series of shows which include Motown: The Groove that Changed America, The Piano Men: Billy Joel & Elton John and The Beatles, and our newest offerings, Nashville Nights and Piano Women, are gaining popularity with requests to return every season. Our Center Cabaret series is back again in 2024 with 4 unique themes and productions. There's a lot to look forward to in Escondido. And we hope audiences from all over Southern California will continue to come out and support the shows! We have some exciting things planned in 2025 and I am currently in the process of planning the season which will kick off with Jersey Boys in the Fall and end with another World Premiere in the Summer. Check out our brand new website and explore the many offerings we have lined up!