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Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: ViSTA's COVID-time Play

Chris Peters '21

How do you create a theatrical performance while following COVID-19 distancing guidelines? This past fall VISTA Theater tackled this challenge head-on. With great courage and fortitude, the company created and performed a production called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Based on a 2003 mystery novel by Mark Haddon and adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens, the play explores the world through Christopher Boone, a boy on the autism spectrum. The character is on stage the entirety of the performance; however, he does not like to be touched by other individuals. This aspect of the performance naturally allowed the actors to maintain social distancing.

Before they could begin rehearsing, they had to develop an understanding of autism and conduct research about the struggles families face when dealing with it. Autism is an extremely delicate subject, and, as such, the cast had to ensure that they did not misrepresent autism through their characters. This process was extremely fulfilling as the cast learned about the added stress placed on one’s marriage, personal finance, other children, and overall personal responsibilities.

Laura Breyen, who played Christopher’s mother, Judy Boone, stated that this process “ highlighted how a disability can affect a family. So often you hear about how the disability affects the person who has it, but it was eye-opening to see the ways it affected Christopher's family and the other people in his life.”

With the small company of twenty members, students were able to maintain a safe distance at all times. Additionally, due to COVID-19 distancing guidelines, VISTA productions had to pivot from their usual routine. They were no longer allowed to have a vibrant live audience; instead, now they had a virtual one. The play was filmed last fall and some scenes were even shot weeks apart; despite this, the final performance appeared as one take.

However, the production was not without a setback. Halfway through the process, many members of the cast had to quarantine for two weeks after coming into contact with someone outside of VISTA that had COVID. So what did they do when they could not rehearse in person? The cast and crew had to shift to virtual rehearsals, while simultaneously rehearsing in-person with those who were not quarantined. Although extremely difficult the company’s hard work paid off in the end.

Armed with a greater understanding of autism, the members of the company were ready to share this production and message to the VISTA community. Following their performance, they facilitated dialogue about what they learned and invited others to share their experiences with autism.

Upon asking sophomore Wilson Pulkrabek, he stated that the performance taught him “a lot about common misunderstandings and how difficult it can be for someone who leads a life on the autism spectrum to properly and effectively communicate with others. [He] had never realized the difficulty one could have trying to decipher common speech that may seem elementary to many of us not on the autism spectrum. [He] now holds a deeper understanding of ways [he] can help those on the spectrum.”

When the curtains finally fell after opening night the cast and crew had no clue what was to come. The production was extremely well received throughout the Twin Cities as it appeared on local television and newspapers. One of the stories can be found at the following link.

The overall production was recently recognized by the Hennepin Theater Trust and Spotlight Education. Upon careful consideration, the production received the highest award of “Outstanding” in the following categories: achievement in theater, overall production, overall performance, ensemble performance, acting performance, run crew, overall technical team, and light-sound crew. The company also received some individual awards. Ethan Hiew received “Outstanding Performance in the Leading Role of Christopher Boone.” Furthermore, Christopher Peters received an “Honorable Mention in the Leading Role of Ed Boone.” As a result, the company will be performing at the Minnesota State Theater if and hopefully when COVID restrictions are lifted.