“Autism isn’t a disability; it is simply a different ability. We need to stop looking at it as a road block – but rather, as another door open to different experiences.”
– Robin Wagner, “The Language of Autism” –
I sat down with Seth Howell, and his mother, last week at “Ugurt” – (a local frozen yogurt joint, located deliciously near the theater) – and we had a wonderful conversation about the process of acting, our likes and dislikes, and about what makes us happy and what makes us sad. Seth is an extraordinarily kind young man, a senior in high school, and quick to crack a sarcastic, yet loving, joke at his mother’s expense. Tamara Howell, his wonderfully encouraging mother, was kind enough to set this meeting up – as I continue my journey of research and exploration through the world of autism as it relates to my role of Christopher Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Like Christopher, Seth encounters both the everyday difficulties and gifts of someone on the autism spectrum. I was touched by Seth’s willingness to engage in a conversation with me about his life experiences – and after our meeting, I found myself, yet again, on the other side of research, wondering how I’m supposed to take everything I’m learning and filter it into my performance.
So with such limited rehearsal time, I have spent the past two weeks turning myself into A Sponge – absorbing as much information as I can; filling my “spores” with interviews, personal experiences, audio-books, autobiographies, novels, videos, studies, documentaries, even math homework! I spend much of my time here in beautiful Salt Lake City squeezing as much as I can into a mind already cramped with 74 pages of non-stop action and dialogue of which the role demands. I willingly do this, in the hopes that I may emulate a well-made staged-sized sponge on opening night – when I get to spend two-plus hours, in front of an audience, wringing out everything I’ve absorbed; hopefully, leaving the stage drenched, in a momentary experience subliminally informed by the research, but created by a deep trust in the present moment and wrung out by the act of sharing it and imagining it publicly….Or at least that is what I imagine when I close my eyes and envision myself in this incredible role in this incredible play in this incredible theater.
And when I asked Seth, as we finished our frozen yogurt, “what is the thing in life that brings you the most joy?” he simply and beautifully answered……
Well, Seth, I think we share that joy in common; because The Theatre, for me, is the most important place in the world, where I get to spend all of my time “Imagining Things” – no matter how challenging, or stressful, or overwhelming; it is always the place that brings me the most joy. And I hope to be forever imagining things for the rest of my life.
– HARRISON BRYAN [Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which runs September 15-30, 2017]
(To Pioneer Theatre Company and Karen Azenberg, thank you for trusting me and welcoming me into your home. To Seth and Tamara Howell, thank you for your time and kindness.)