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Curious Incident… Actor Gene Gillette Takes a Unique Kid on a Backstage Tour of DPAC

Gene Gillette and Lane at the Stage Door (photo by Dustin K. Britt)

Gene Gillette and Lane at the Stage Door (photo by Dustin K. Britt)

My review, Autism Takes Center Stage at DPAC in an Ingenious Adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, highlighted the experience of one of my students (who I’m calling “Lane”) after seeing the production on its opening night, Feb. 21st, at the Durham Performing Arts Center’s. Lane is often hesitant to try new things, and live theater was certainly out of his comfort zone. According to his father, Michael, “Given the choice, he would have stayed home.”

Once coaxed into the theater that night, Lane formed a connection with the story and its lead character, Christopher Boone (played by Adam Langdon), with whom he shares many challenges. Lane’s connection with the play, reported in the previous review, prompted reactions from many in the theater community, but it also reached the cast — a surprising fact, given the volume of reviews published last week for this production.

Cast member Gene Gillette reports, “Here in Durham, we’ve had at least 10 reviews and local stories. In some places, you are lucky if you get one. It just shows what an amazing theater community you have here.”

Upon reading my piece, Gillette, who portrays Christopher’s father, Ed, in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, contacted Triangle Review to invite Lane on a backstage tour. Lane could not wait. He even hoped for news coverage.

After the 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25th, matinee, as the cast and crew snuck off to grab a bite to eat or sneak in a catnap before the evening show, our little merry band stood at the stage door, waiting anxiously alongside other fans for Gene to emerge from the stage door.

Swinging the door open with a welcoming smile and an American accent, Gene Gillette was initially unrecognizable. Lane observed that Gene “talked different and wasn’t playing the character.” Lane added, “His character was troubled over Christopher, and also the affair. Gene wasn’t troubled at all. He was really nice. I was a little surprised.”

Gene guided Lane, his parents, kid sister, and yours truly through the enormous warehouse that is backstage DPAC, with its hallways muraled with logos and signatures from previous out-of-town shows.

Gene Gillette and Lane visit DPAC's "Hall of Fame" (photo by Dustin K. Britt)

Gene Gillette and Lane visit DPAC‘s “Hall of Fame” (photo by Dustin K. Britt)

Appropriately for Lane, our host explained some of the technical elements of the show: how the stage manager uses cameras to monitor every angle of the cube, where the dummy murdered dog is kept, how quick changes are achieved, how actors cross from side to side, and how lighting elements are used.

Lane learns strategies for effective stage management (photo by Dustin K. Britt)

Lane learns strategies for effective stage management (photo by Dustin K. Britt)

But the best part of Lane’s journey was the entry into Christopher’s physical world. Practically leaping out of his shoes, Lane declares “The stage was crazy. I got to stand on it!”

We crept through the tiny doorway that led us into the giant cube that comprises the set of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Ushers were tidying up the auditorium as a few lingering, chatty audience members slipped and trickled out. A dusting of white confetti covered the black stage. You could still make out a chalk illustration of a dog on the floor.

Lane talks lighting with Gene (photo by Dustin K. Britt)

Lane talks lighting with Gene (photo by Dustin K. Britt)

Lane had plenty of questions for Gene Gillette, as we traversed DPAC: “I asked him if it’d be tough to change your accent for a 2½-hour show, every night. He said ‘I’ve done a British accent for six hours, and it wasn’t hard. So, maybe not for me.'”

Lane exited the theater with a Curious Incident… poster (signed by the cast), a photo with his new celebrity buddy, Gene Gillette, and his heart and mind open to the magic of theater. “I’m going to frame [the poster] and keep it in my new room at my new house when we move,” said Lane.

Gene and Lane discuss the detailed London diorama from Act One (photo by Dustin K. Britt)

Gene and Lane discuss the detailed London diorama from Act One (photo by Dustin K. Britt)

Gillette explains the very personal reason for the invitation: “I just found [Dustin K. Britt’s] review very touching. Especially the part where Lane said it was ‘cool to see someone like him on the stage.'”

He is quick to remind us of English playwright Simon Stephens’ intentions: “They have never defined what Christopher is dealing with. It’s not a play about autism. It’s a play about valuing the difference in other people, and I think it makes the play accessible to a larger group of people when it isn’t defined.”

But how unique was this invitation for a special visit? “Backstage tours are pretty common, but this is the first tour that I’ve given to someone I hadn’t met before,” Gillette says.

Our budding theater aficionado Lane reflects, “[The play] was really accurate, honestly. I think that the audience could learn that having autism is a rocky road. Not the paved road that is brand new. It’s not the easiest route, but we can’t choose our route.”

His father, Michael, notes that his son used a metaphor — something often misunderstood by individuals with autism spectrum disorders. “I can use some metaphors,” Lane clarifies. “I can learn them over time. I like metaphors that are about cars.”

Michael says, “I want him to see the arts as something accessible, something that he can be involved in.”

Lane’s parents asked him if he would like to attend the theater again soon. Lane’s response, with his trademark enthusiasm was, “Absolutely!”

Lane takes an incredible journey through the high-tech world of <em>The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time</em>, backstage at the Durham Performing Arts Center (photo by Dustin K. Britt)

Lane takes an incredible journey through the high-tech world of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, backstage at the Durham Performing Arts Center (photo by Dustin K. Britt)

SECOND OPINION: March 7th Durham, NC Chronicle (Duke University student newspaper) review by Jaya Pokuri: http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2017/03/curious-boy; Feb. 24th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/arts/archives/2017/02/24/theater-review-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-lights-up-the-mathematics-of-the-mind and Feb. 11th mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time/Event?oid=4995526; Feb. 23rd Talkin’ Broadway Raleigh/Durham review by Garrett Southerland: http://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/rd/rd14.html; Feb. 22nd Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-THE-CURIOUS-INCIDENT-OF-THE-DOG-IN-THE-NIGHT-TIME-National-Tour-at-Durham-Performing-Arts-Center-20170222 and Feb. 20th BWW TV interview with actor Adam Langdon, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-Adam-Langdon-of-THE-CURIOUS-INCIDENT-OF-THE-DOG-IN-THE-NIGHT-TIME-National-Tour-20170220; Feb. 22nd Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/review-beyond-your-curious-imagination/article_3cf14212-f937-11e6-980a-47044257146f.html and Feb. 16th preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/curious-new-play-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in/article_dc9c8b62-f3ee-11e6-99ea-031796c8aeb0.html (Note: You must subscribe to read these articles); Feb. 22nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article134291174.html; Feb. 22nd Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/02/thoroughly-original-dpacs-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-is-a-must-see/; Feb. 22nd Raleigh, NC WRAL.com video interview with actor Benjamin Wheelwright and animal wrangler Cara Kilduff, conducted by Renee Chou: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/video/16544384/; and Feb. 22nd Durham, NC WTVD/ABC11 interview with Gene Gillette and Felicity Jones Latta, conducted by Barbara Gibbs: http://abc11.com/entertainment/curious-incident-sparks-dynamic-performance-at-dpac/1767197/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 21st Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, the Feb. 22nd review by Jerome Davis, and the Feb. 23rd review by Dustin K. Britt, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/02/dpac-presents-simon-stephens-multiple-olivier-and-tony-award-winning-play-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-on-feb-21-26/, http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/02/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-times-cast-tells-the-story-with-confidence-humor-and-precision/, and http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/02/autism-takes-center-stage-at-dpac-in-an-ingenious-adaptation-of-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time/, respectively.)

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (Durham Performing Arts Center, Feb 21-26 at DPAC in the American Tobacco Historic District).

SHOW: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-nighttime and https://www.facebook.com/events/1646360432320993/.

VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBQJJlTzhUg.

DPAC NEWS RELEASE: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-on-sale-sept-10.

DPAC‘S SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2016-17.

THE TOUR: http://curiousonbroadway.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time–501083, https://www.facebook.com/CuriousBroadway, and https://twitter.com/CuriousBroadway.

TOUR CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM: http://curiousonbroadway.com/#cast.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.

OTHER LINKS:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003 mystery novel): http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/73405/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-by-mark-haddon/9781101911617/ (Penguin Random House) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Curious_Incident_of_the_Dog_in_the_Night-Time (Wikipedia).

The Novel: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Mark Haddon (English novelist): http://markhaddon.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/mark-haddon-496546 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Haddon (Wikipedia).

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2012 West End and 2014 Broadway drama): http://www.curiousonstage.com/ (official West End website), https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time (National Theatre show page), http://curiousonbroadway.com/ (official Broadway website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-496543 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Curious_Incident_of_the_Dog_in_the_Night-Time_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Study Guide: http://cdn.spotcointeractive.com/websites/curiousincident/_downloads/CuriousIncident-StudyGuide.pdf (National Theatre).

Simon Stephens (English playwright): http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsS/stephens-simon.html (Doollee.com: The Playwrights Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/simon-stephens-496545 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Stephens (Wikipedia).

Gene Gillette (actor who plays Ed Boone): http://www.genegillette.net/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/gene-gillette-509934 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3262171/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/gene.gillette.18 (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/gillette_gene (Twitter page).

[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]

[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is a local theater actor, regular crew member, and member of the board of directors of Arts Access, Inc., which makes the arts accessible to people with disabilities. He holds an M.A.Ed. degree in Special Education from East Carolina University. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can also find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt, on Twitter as @dkbritt85, and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.

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