The Ring Theater play highlights a unique protagonist

The Jerry Herman Ring Theater at the University of Miami kicks off its spring season with a production that sparks a fundamental dialogue about inclusivity in theater.

The Department of Theater Arts kicks off its Spring 2022 season with the production “The Strange Incident of the Dog in the Night,” which runs March 4-11 at Jerry Herman Ring Theater. The piece will feature the long awaited round or 360 degree seating.

Greta Hicks, who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree majoring in musical theatre, said she thought it was a “must watch” play.

“The characters offer something for everyone. I think everyone who comes to the show will be able to relate to the characters and the circumstances at some point,” she explained. “Coming out of the theatre, I hope people will be encouraged to live their lives with more compassion for others, because you never know what they’re going through.”

The play, adapted by Simon Stephens, is based on the novel by Mark Haddon and is directed by Nilo Cruz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright from Miami. The audience will have an enhanced experience with the round seating which places the stage in the center of the room surrounded by the audience.

“We have the opportunity to tell a story from the eyes of a beautifully candid and observant boy, who can’t help but tell things as they are,” said Emilia Torello, a graduate in musical theater at the Bachelor of Fine Arts. “By doing it in the round, we add a layer of intimacy to an already deeply intimate room. You will fall as deeply into this world as those of us here on stage.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” centers on the protagonist, 15-year-old Christopher Boone, who is described as having behavioral issues. He’s never ventured beyond the end of his street alone, but when he’s suspected of killing his neighbor’s dog, Christopher embarks on a journey that turns his world upside down while reaffirming his very existence. Although it is never explicitly stated that the character is on the autism spectrum, the piece is based on Christopher’s unique portrayals of how he sees the world.

Torello plays the character of Siobhan, who is Christopher’s long-term special education teacher. She points out that being able to see everything through Christopher’s eyes is a very unique experience compared to other plays performed at The Ring.

“The beautiful thing about this play is that you can see Christopher’s story played out in a very magical, intricate and endearing way. It’s full of both magical realism and moments very real conflict and struggle between Christopher and his relationships with the people around him, as well as their relationships with each other through Christopher’s eyes,” she said.

Given the context of the play, the Ring Theater is partnering with the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD). Michael Bush, Artistic Director of the Ring Theatre, emphasized that working with the UM-NSU CARD program will increase audience awareness and inclusivity.

“The choice to produce this piece fits perfectly with our mission. This gives our students a chance to work on world-class material with a world-class director while creating a safe space for anyone, for example CARD members, to come and enjoy live theater in the way it wish,” Bush explained. “I think our job as educators at this great university is to make sure there’s a place at the table for everyone.”

Michael Alessandri, executive director of UM-NSU CARD, explained that the program is continually on a mission to create autism-friendly places and spaces for its clients and their families throughout South Florida. Program initiatives have resulted in autism-friendly arts centers, urgent care facilities, museums, dental practices, airports, and more.

“With the arrival of spring production, we saw an opportunity to bring our regional initiative to campus. This actually represents our first such partnership on the Coral Gables campus, and we couldn’t be prouder to start in this way,” said Alessandri.

“This partnership is so important to us because in addition to bringing our expertise to the community, we also hope to bring the community to our campus to experience the multitude of social, recreational and cultural experiences we have to offer,” a- he added. “Our autism-friendly programming allows our CARD families to participate in these experiences with greater comfort.”

Alongside this partnership, the Ring Theater will host a panel discussion to take place on Wednesday, March 9, prior to that evening’s performance. It will center on the theme of autism in the context of the play. UM-NSU CARD staff and self-advocates will be part of the conversation.

“Demystifying autism for the general public is one of our main goals at CARD and having these courageous conversations about neurodiversity with a wider audience is very helpful in achieving that goal,” said Alessandri.

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