• Penny & Pound Theatre

Curiouser and the Celebration of Neurodiversity in Theatre: An Interview with Arthur G. Brook

Did you know? Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) is among a plethora of beloved authors rumoured to be neurodivergent! CURIOUSER leading man, Arthur G. Brook sat down to discuss his take on this iconic figure, and his experiences as a neurodiverse performer.

1) WHAT'S IT LIKE PLAYING SUCH AN ICONIC HISTORICAL FIGURE? It is both the most challenging work I've ever done as an actor, and the easiest. On paper, I relate very heavily to the written version of Charles, which makes it easy to find him as a character. That being said, I keep remiding myself that he's not just a character. He was a real living person. In every scene, I decide whether I need to lean more to the fictitious version in the script, or the version he was in real life. It makes every scene just a little more challenging, and super fun to play. 2) WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE BRINGING THIS CHARACTER TO LIFE? The elaborate answer is trying to nail down the living, breathing man, and who he was to the best of my ability, while also fictionalizing him in a way that's palatable for an audience. People who come to see Curiouser are getting the man;s life story in two hours. There's a lot to cram in, and there's a lot that gets left out. How can my portrayal of him be both true to Charles as he was when he was alive, and entertaining enough to keep an audience's attention? It's a very delicate balance. The simple answer is that he's a very prominently feature character, and I find learning lines to be one of my biggest challenges in acting.

Arthur G. Brook as Charles Dodgson. Photo by Far Off Memory Photography, 2021. 3) WHEN IT COMES TO NEURODIVERGENT REPRESENTATION IN THEATRE, DO YOU THINK THERE'S ENOUGH? NOT ENOUGH? There can always be more representation, since it's such a broad spectrum, but it needs to be honest. Some of the best neurodivergent portrayals I've seen in media were from characters who were not explicitly written to be on the spectrum. There are autistic people who may come to see Curiouser who don't seem themselves in how I play Charles. That's wonderful! They deserve to see themselves on stage as much as I do when I look for neurodivergence in media. I've seen performances that did much more harm than good, so it's just something to be careful with. It cannot be the only character trait. When I play Charles, I am to play the man, not the man's autism. 4) HOW CAN THE THEATRE COMMUNITY BETTER SUPPORT NEURODIVERSE PERFORMERS AND ARTISTS? The one word answer is 'listen.' Be understanding, and take their opinions into consideration when talking about issues that affect them. Recognize that they're going to do things differently, and will certainly be quirky at times. The stigma is very real. Some of my best friends are on the spectrum; the more you get to know us, the more you'll see that we're people.

Arthur G. Brook (right) as Charles Dodgson, and Nathan W. Farmer (left) as The Mad Hatter. Photo by Far Off Memory Photography, 2021. 5) HOW DO YOU RELATE TO THE CHARACTER OF CHARLES DODGSON? Charles might be the most I've related to a character in my entire life. Every time I go through the script, I find another similarity between us. Difficulty with some peers and authority in formative years, often lost in his imagination or in a book, eccentric and strange- there's quite a few similarities. It makes it incredibly easy to slip into character. I spend a lot of time thinking about "how would my character feel about this?" or "how would they react to this?" When playing Charles, it becomes more "how do I feel about this?" or "how am I reacting to this?" It's very easy to lose myself in him. 6) IN THE SHOW, CHARLES' FATHER FINDS IT DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND HIM. HAVE YOU PERSONALLY EXPERIENCED THIS FROM A LOVED ONE OR SOMEONE CLOSE TO YOU? Absolutely. It's gotten a lot better as I've gotten older, but in my youth, I had a lot of difficulty fitting in with my peers. There was a lot of misunderstanding and fights that happened because I wasn't able to comprehend what they were saying, or had trouble fitting in with what they deemed as acceptable. Similarily to {the character of} Young Charles in the musical, I knew a lot of particularly ruthless children and teachers when I was in grade school. "Ocean of Tears" is a very realistic number in that regard. Also similarily to Charles, it wasn't until I embraced what made me different that people {began to} see me in a different light. That's when life truly became a dream for me. 7) IN THE SHOW, CHARLES USES HIS IMAGINATION TO BETTER HELP HIM UNDERSTAND THE WORLD AROUND HIM. HAVE YOU EVER DONE THIS? Many, many times. When I was younger (and to a certain extent, now) I had a very hard time understanding people, and their motivations, what made them tick, who they were, et cetera. Everyone seemed like grey blobs. I couldn't understand it, so I couldn't form solid attachments. However, cartoons made it easy. If you had a character who was shifty, charming, maybe a compulsive liar, they were a fox. Noble leader with a heart of gold and power to back up? You've got a lion. Loyal best friend who is there for you whenever you need it, but might be a little naive? Dog! As a kid, I would assign people animals based on characteristics they had to me. I stopped doing it as I got older because it's not fair to put real complex people in such small boxes with no chance to grow or develop. That being said, it's still the first thing I do when developing a character for a show. To that point though, I never gave Charles an animal. He's human. He's complex. And he's wonderful. 8) WHY SHOULD AUDIENCES COME TO SEE 'CURIOUSER?' I've done a lot of theatre in my life. I cannot say that I've ever been a part of anything like Curiouser. It's a wholly unique experience that fits with both the spirit of Alice in Wonderland that people already know and love, while telling a fresh new story. Every cylinder is firing in this show. Every song that I've heard is beautiful. The acting and singing is phenomenal. We've started to get looks at costumes, too, and they're nothing short of incredible. It's going to be an amazing show.

Arthur G. Brook as Charles Dodgson. Photo by Far Off Memory Photography, 2021.

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