In “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,” the mystery play Peninsula College will present this weekend, Emily Loucks has found inspiration, connection — and — props around her house.
As Siobhan, the schoolteacher who befriends the teenager at the center of the story, she and her fellow actors are stepping into a new frontier: live-streamed theater on the North Olympic Peninsula.
“Curious Incident,” a play by Simon Stephens based on the Whitbread Prize-winning novel by Mark Haddon, was first performed at the Royal National Theatre of London, and then went on to Broadway in New York City. It has since toured the world, with productions in Australia, South Korea, South Africa, Israel and Mexico.
A year ago, “Curious Incident” was chosen as Peninsula College’s spring production. Like “A Chorus Line” and “The Rocky Horror Show” of years past, it was to fill the Little Theater stage.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut the campus down in March, drama professor and play director Lara Starcevich had doubts her show would go on. But Mark Valentine, her colleague and friend, brought up the idea of putting “Curious” on Zoom, the internet meeting platform. Starcevich considered it — and decided yes. Let’s go for it.
Off actors and crew went, exploring the script and contending with Wi-Fi glitches in their respective homes.
They’ve worked through the technical and artistic challenges, and now the company is ready.
“The Curious Incident” is set to appear on screens across the Peninsula — and anywhere else where there’s an Internet connection — at 7:30 p.m. this Friday and Saturday and finally on June 17.
The play is trimmed to about one hour to make it home-viewing-friendly, Starcevich noted.
Tickets are free for Peninsula College students and $6 for the public, and viewers can obtain the Zoom link and instructions by emailing Starcevich — well in advance — at [email protected]
More information about the play and other Student Arts Festival activities can be found at pencol.edu/events/all.
“We’ve had to do our own lighting and sets, costumes and makeup and everything,” Loucks said. “It’s crazy how we’ve made it work.”
At home in Sequim, she and her father built a green screen, the blank backdrop onto which various sets, such as Siobhan’s classroom, are projected.
Loucks, a 16-year-old in the college’s Running Start program, appears in “Curious Incident” with a variety of colleagues: Will Fleck of Forks plays Christopher, a boy who is on the autism spectrum. Valentine, who lives in Port Townsend, and Richard Stephens of Port Angeles serve as the narrators, and, with actor Frederick Robinson, they’re also assistant directors.
Tia Stephens, Richard’s daughter and a theater director in her own right, is both a sound designer and the actor who portrays Christopher’s mother.
The rest of the cast is a mix of community members and students: Sarah Tucker, Graham Nott, Kaysey Roberts, Mike Roggenbuck, Brianna Yacklin and Haotian Sky Zhu.
Danielle Custer provides sound design and technical support alongside Pete Griffin, Peninsula College’s longtime theater technical adviser.
“I’m lucky,” Starcevich said, “because Pete is so patient. I can get back to focusing on the acting,” and telling the story of Christopher and his hero’s journey.
It’s a tale of trust, mistrust and relationship repair. Besides all of this, she said, it’s a Sherlock Holmes-esque whodunit.
Performing while physically apart is tougher for some actors than others, Starcevich added. Some feel self-conscious and inhibited at first. For the players — and the viewers — it’s a matter of letting go and immersing yourself in the moment.
Throughout the process, Starcevich and her cast have enjoyed rich discussions — apart and together online — of the people they’re portraying.
Each actor has had experience with the play’s themes. Each has shed empathic light on the characters.
Starcevich, for her part, was touched by the story’s element of healing. “Curious Incident” isn’t about autism, she said. It’s about family members learning how to connect.
“I was delighted at the way this play unfolds,” added Tucker, who has many years of experience acting in and producing shows in Port Angeles and Sequim.
“I have watched a number of other successful Zoom performances during this time from all over,” she added. “This show has everything those shows have: dedicated and talented actors and a solid script that is good enough to move you. Glitches be damned.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.