ROCKFORD, Mich. WOOD) — Rockford High School senior Noah Parker has been in several plays and musicals, but never as the lead and never in a role that felt personal — until now.
Parker is playing the role of Christopher Boone in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”
“I haven’t had a show that touches down this deep before, but I’m very happy to be a part of it,” Parker said.
He identifies so well with the role because he and the character he plays both have autism.
“I was diagnosed when I was 3 years old with Asperger’s syndrome. I learned it was not something that was wrong with me. My mother described it more as a super power. It was something I had to learn how to live with and make it more a part of me, rather than push it away from me,” Parker said.
He and the rest of the cast are putting the finishing touches on their performance ahead of opening night, Nov. 7.
The show revolves around a 15-year-old boy with autism, which Parker suggests is probably undiagnosed, who’s living with his father and one day discovers his neighbor’s dead dog. He is intent on solving the mystery of who killed it.
“He’s on a journey to find out who did it, so he becomes sort of a detective. It’s a story of him sort of uncovering lots of truths from his own life,” Parker said. “And at the same time, you get to see what his perspective on the whole world is. It’s engaging, emotional, powerful, inspiring, and it’s a strong message, I would say.”
He connected with his character immediately, because he could see the parallels in his own life. For example, there is a scene in the play where Christopher learns shocking news about his family and he shuts down.
“There are similar experiences I’ve had where, in a stressful situation, I would stop talking, or go silent,” Parker said.
He explained that he had a visual cue he would give his mom when he was “turned off,” bringing his hand up to his mouth as if he were turning a key in a lock.
“She knew that if I was turned off for a while, it was OK. It just meant I needed some time to myself to figure out whatever just happened. Then, later, when I’m ready, I can just turn it back on,” Parker explained.
One experience from his childhood has stuck with him. In the fifth grade, Parker’s teacher took them all outside to play an impromptu game of football.
“I remember a kid tackled me and I did not like that at all. As soon as I saw the dirt (on my shirt), I just ran inside the school, hid somewhere behind a chair in a classroom, I think, and just waited there, focusing on my breathing and thinking,” he said.
He said the school created a search party to find him. When they did, he told them he was okay and had just needed some time to himself.
Parker thinks he was an important catalyst for the elementary school because, at the time, he wasn’t fully understood. The administrators did their best to figure out how to help him and others like him.
During the play, Parker’s character, Christopher, finds the courage to walk to the train station by himself and get on the train to travel to another city. This is a huge feat, considering his sensory challenges.
“That was an unbelievably difficult thing for him to go through, but it gave him that strength to then realize that he can do this and he isn’t as trapped as he thinks he is at the beginning of the show,” Parker said.
Perhaps he sees himself overcoming that same feeling as he finds the courage to bare his soul on stage through this role.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunity to express and engage with the audience, to help teach people about autism, and how wonderful and unique it is,” he said. “(Being in this play) has made me realize how important it is to my identity. It’s not like you can cure autism, it’s more about learning how to make it you and help it define you.”