Every human is a universe unto themselves but, more often than not, there are more things that unite us than divide us. For some atypical members of the human tribe, those things that come with relative ease to the rest of the tribe elude them.
In the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, writer Mark Haddon explores the life of teenage mathematician Christopher John Francis Boone. He has a few "behavioral difficulties" due to a condition that may be on the autism spectrum and he lives a very circumscribed life, to the point where he cannot interact with the world around him, and those who inhabit it. A contentious neighbor, Mrs. Shears, owns a large black poodle. When the dog is found dead, Christopher's limited sphere begins to change.
Several critiques have praised the book's tenderness, care and profundity. Now, Players by the Sea is mounting an adaptation of the book in play form, directed by Bradley Akers and starring Drew Brown as Christopher.
Folio Weekly talked with Drew Brown who, among other achievements, has a Student Academy Award for his short film, Person.
Folio Weekly: What got you into acting?
Drew Brown: I was raised pretty artistically. I was involved in music and painting from a really young age. In high school (Middleburg High School), I was really active in music and the arts, and in 11th grade I started acting on the stage.
It was new, and it was insightful for me as an artist. It was kind of an epiphany type of experience. After high school, I studied filmmaking at the Art Institute of Jacksonville. I was studying to get my film degree while continuing to consistently act in NEFLa [circa 2014].
Right after college, you were recognized for your 14-minute film Person. Tell us about that.
Person dealt with gender identity and held the conversation of a character trying to understand their own gender identity in a society that seemed to want nothing to do with them. Ever since that moment, I've been interested in human storytelling, in navigating through these conversations through filmmaking and through performance. These are usually stories told from a voice that has been silenced by societal boundaries.
The book [The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time] is about an autistic person who gets pushed outside his boundaries. What about that resonates with you?
Something that my director and I have been making sure to communicate with people is that in the novel, the idea of autism is never mentioned at all.
The author, Mark Hadden, created this character not with the strict idea that he is autistic, but more that he has a mind unlike many others'.
When he was creating the character of Christopher, [Hadden] not only did not want to flat-out instill the characteristics of being autistic in him, he stated that going into writing this character, he hadn't done a lot of research into autism (though he had worked with autistic people), so his knowledge was anecdotal. The focus on Christopher's character really is on how his mind works. He's an incredible genius when it comes to mathematics and logistical concepts. But he's ill-equipped to deal with a lot of things he comes into contact with in everyday life.
What things does he not handle well?
Well, he absolutely loathes being touched, so he tries to keep his distance from people. He is very distrusting of strangers, and he's barely left the confines of his own neighborhood. One big turning point in the story comes when he travels to London all by himself, on a train. And the only inkling of knowledge he has on how to navigate to London is a toy train set he's been playing with for years.
As an actor, how do you prepare for playing a person very different from you, not just in circumstance and locale, but at his core?
It's interesting a lot of the conversations we've been having in rehearsal are talking about really understanding who these people are and how to connect with these characters. These people are experiencing things we've never experienced and never had to. But at the same time, we kind of take a look at these characters to understand some of the things they go through. These people aren't that different from us.
When I "look" at Christopher, I see a young man who has so many challenges because his mind works in a way that's disabled or impaired, but in a way that's not like the norm. He has his own way of functioning, he has his own way of coping and he has his own way of learning and understanding what is around him.
The rehearsal process has been really helpful. Day after day, our characters are unfolding. All these walls are really coming down, so we're fully able to grasp this story and these connections. And it's really beautiful.