Thank you for visiting this blog! My name is Anna Guse, and as the dramaturg for Ohio State Theatre’s production of Curious Incident, I have been updating this website throughout the rehearsal process to document the exploration of ideas, themes, and questions surrounding our production. This blog has been a digital collaborative space existing as an exciting extension of conversations within the rehearsal room and production team meetings. Look through to learn more about Curious Incident and how we have approached it in production here at the Ohio State University (scroll to the bottom and move up to view posts chronologically)!
Check out the third and final part of my takeover of the @ohiostatetheatre Instagram account at the last dress rehearsal before Curious Incident‘s preview on April 9th.
I took over the @ohiostatetheatre Instagram account again on Friday, April 5 to feature the first dress rehearsal for Curious Incident! Check it out below. Be sure to watch out for my final Instagram takeover on Monday, April 8.
On Tuesday, April 2, I took over the @ohiostatetheatre Instagram account to document an early tech rehearsal! Check out the video below to relive the magic. Be sure to follow @ohiostatetheatre so that you can catch my other Instagram takeovers on Friday, April 5, and Monday, April 8, highlighting a couple of the final Curious Incident rehearsals.
Christopher Boone is incredible averse to some things/experiences, while he remarkably favors others. Simon Stephens’ script shows us many of Christopher’s primary likes and dislikes, but Mark Haddon’s original novel delineates an even more comprehensive list. The below lists of Christopher’s likes and dislikes are drawn directly from Haddon’s novel, in which Christopher defends his right to make hard and fast decisions on what he enjoys and disfavors in life: “…in life you have to take lots of decisions and if you can’t take decisions you would never do anything because you would spend all your time choosing between things you could do.”
Swindon, Christopher’s hometown, is a large town in county Wiltshire, situated 71 miles to the east of London (the average journey time via train between Swindon Station and London Paddington is 68 minutes). A small market town for many centuries, Swindon’s population boomed with the Industrial Revolution, as a canal system and construction of the Great Western Railway works ushered in a more trade-based economy. According to the 2011 census, Swindon has a population over 182,000 people. “Swindonians” experience a classic British maritime climate, and enjoy a landscape defined by the rolling hills of Wiltshire Downs.
Swindon’s industry is decidedly booming, as the average household income in Swindon is among the highest in England. Some of Swindon’s major employers include BMW/Mini, Honda, Dolby Labs, and Intel. Many financial, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies keep their head UK offices in Swindon. The town is also the home of the UK Space Agency Headquarters (how cool for Christopher!).
In addition to its booming economy, Swindon also benefits from its beautiful landscape outside of the town center, and proximity to major British tourist destinations such as Bath, Oxford, the Cotswolds, the Avebury Henge and Stone Circles, and the White Horse Trail (which guides tourists to view large images of horses carved into the hills of Wiltshire Downs). In terms of green spaces in Swindon, characters in Curious Incident may enjoy the Lydiard Country Park estate and grounds, Stanton and Coate Water Country Parks, the ancient forts and routes found at Barbury Castle and the Ridgeway, the Old Town Gardens, and many other parks and lawns found in the area.
As home of the Great Western Railway works in the 19th century, Swindon boasts the Steam Museum, which houses historical steam locomotives. Other town highlights include the Museum of Computing (again, what a dream for Christopher!), a science museum, original Turkish Baths still in use at the Health Hydro facilities, a museum dedicated to writer Richard Jefferies, and a historical museum and art gallery. Swindon also enjoys theatres, an arts center, and a robust shopping district.
“2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97, 101…” Christopher, anxiously avoiding a policeman, ritualistically recites the prime numbers to calm himself while strangers enter the luggage cabin within which he is hiding. Christopher is engaging in stimming behavior, or self-stimulating behavior, a symptom common among people with autism spectrum disorder. Stimming behaviors, or stims, are repetitive behaviors, which may be motor- and/or object-based, and/or verbal. Within the text of Curious Incident, Christopher’s most clearly defined stims are his recitations of the prime numbers, the powers of 2, and the cubes of the cardinal numbers. Someone with autism spectrum disorder may engage in stims in order to block sensory input when overstimulated, provide sensory input when understimulated, manage or express emotions, or simply soothe or comfort oneself. Although some stims can be dangerous (such as banging one’s head, pinching oneself, or hitting objects), a person with autism spectrum disorder should not be forced to stop safe stims, as they may allow the individual to function with less stress. Many people who do not have autism spectrum disorder engage in stims as well, such as biting one’s nails, playing with one’s hair, or whistling. Part of Connor Graham’s work on the character of Christopher is practicing and defining Christopher’s gestural stims.
It is particularly interesting to explore the role of stimming in relationship to movement sequences within our production of Curious Incident. During sequences within the text in which we find Christopher surrounded by a crowd, the ensemble works together to create a kind of machine of bodies. Operating as a mechanized unit, the ensemble marches in step with one another to evoke bustling bodies within a train station, or ritualistically practices gestures associated with the movement of the train: “Train coming. Train stopped. Doors open. Train going. Silence.” In these particular movement sequences, the ensemble operates within a codified system of movement that is unknown to Christopher. He is a stranger to this movement language, and either endures it, or learns the language and uses it. The anxiety and uncertainty produced by these movement systems function as a direct antithesis to Christopher’s stims, which serve as a comforting, ritualistic, personal language that holds unique significance to Christopher.
The following link takes you to the “Education” page for the United Kingdom National Autistic Society. This resource provides information and advice for people with autism spectrum disorder and their loved ones to help them consider educational options, and navigate challenges a person with ASD might face within the educational system. For example, the site includes advice regarding transitions, homework, exams, exclusion, and disability advocacy in education. This resource is helpful for expanding a picture of what the educational system looks like to the characters within Curious Incident.
The following attached file is the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism’s (APPGA) 2017 report, which provides recommendations to the UK government as to how it can structure policy to best support children and young people with autism spectrum disorder within the UK educational system. Among other things, the report covers how the educational system can expand expertise regarding ASD among educators and students, and provides information regarding important educational support areas (speech and language therapy, daily living skills, mental health support, occupational therapy, etc.) and needs assessment strategies. Due to the efforts of APPGA and advocacy groups with whom they work, the UK government now requires all teachers going through initial training to experience autism spectrum disorder training to learn how to best support students with ASD.
Hampstead Heath, one of Judy’s favorite places, is a 790-acre park in northern London, and is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. When I took a day-trip to relax at the Heath while in London, I was surprised to find it took me about 40 minutes to arrive at the park from central London, while most tourist destinations can be reached from anywhere in central London between 10 to 20 minutes. All that to say, Hampstead Heath’s nearly remote nature serves as a major component of its appeal. Even more than New York City’s Central Park, where one nearly always can view skyscrapers just beyond the trees, Hampstead Heath feels like a genuine oasis from city life. Its hills and trees for the most part conceal the bustling city to the south. With one notable exception! Parliament Hill, in the southeastern corner of Hampstead Heath, is a remarkable “protected visa,” as the Greater London Authority legally ensures the maintenance of a clear view of London from the hill. From Parliament Hill, a viewer can see St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Palace of Westminster (or “Big Ben”), the Shard, the Gherkin, and the Walkie-Talkie, the last three being proverbially named skyscrapers as crucial to the London skyline as its older inhabitants. I like to imagine that Parliament Hill is where Judy takes Christopher for their day out.
There is still plenty to do in Hampstead Heath other than look out over the city one may be so desperately trying to escape! Christopher may enjoy flying a kite, watching people fish and play cricket, counting the dogs he sees along his path to Parliament Hill, observing the architecture of the Kenwood House, or visiting the Golders Hill Park Zoo. He may wonder at how people can run through the woods without noticing everything around them! Christopher may even like to try his hand at orienteering, a sport in which participants race to find checkpoints on a course using a map and a compass. Hampstead Heath is also famous for its swimming pools and ponds, which Judy may particularly enjoy. As a respite from the city, Christopher and Judy likely both feel solace in the peace and quiet of Hampstead Heath.
I sat down with Chase Abram, a student from Indiana University preparing to graduate in May with degrees in Mathematics and Economics, to chat about Christopher’s A-level math problem that is explained in the play’s “Maths Appendix.” Here’s how Chase solves the problem, in his own words.
One of the core thematic aspects of this production of Curious Incident is the belief that we can empathize with people more when we learn to see the way they process the world. In this specific case, we directly confront how the character of Christopher experiences his world, and how the characters intimately tied to Christopher are in turn impacted by his experience.
Simon Stephens’ play and Mark Haddon’s novel both refrain from definitively identifying Christopher as a young man with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), although his behavioral patterns imply strong connections to ASD. Based on the foundation of strong textual clues within both the script and the novel, our production chooses to accept ASD as a framework through which we can better understand Christopher and the way he experiences the world. As such, it is important to begin the rehearsal process with a brief introduction to ASD. This blog post is only the beginning of a conversation about how we can best tell the story of Christopher.
The CDC approximates that 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with ASD. Symptoms of ASD begin in early childhood, and persist in daily life. Symptoms fall into two categories: social communication challenges, and restricted, repetitive behaviors. Social communication challenges suggest that someone with ASD may not appropriately use or understand facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, tone of voice, and/or spoken language. Someone with ASD may also struggle recognizing and expressing emotions, seeking emotional comfort, and/or feeling overwhelmed in social situations. Restrictive and repetitive behaviors may include ritualistic behaviors, extreme or narrow interests in specific topics, a need for routine, and/or repetitive body movements. To some degree, Christopher displays most of these symptoms. It will be important to thoughtfully and carefully consider how this production negotiates a balance and dynamic between Christopher’s symptoms in a way that is, at its core, respectful and sensitive to the experiences of those with ASD (although every experience is incredibly unique!).
Additionally, some people with ASD may experience sensory issues, as they can be over-responsive or under-responsive to stimuli, such as tastes, touch, smells, sounds, and sights. Christopher’s recurring experience of sensory overload is not only central to the plot of Curious Incident, but also to its design aspects. Watch this video, which simulates the sensory overload experience.