MacGregor Arney and Regan Linton in "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time." /Rich Ryan
The minute he decided Mixed Blood Theatre was going to do "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time," director Jack Reuler knew the lead character, Christopher, who has autism, would be played by an actor with a disability.
"It's probably 18 years since we really made disability an important manifestation of our mission. We've done a lot of it over time, and the caliber of talent out there is remarkable," says Reuler, who has followed the work of lead actor MacGregor Arney, who has cerebral palsy, for three years. Arney earned his master of fine arts degree from University of California San Diego, where Reuler has often worked and which has produced many theater artists who have worked at Mixed Blood over the last three decades, including many of the people involved with the season-opening "How to Use a Knife."
The "Curious Incident" cast also includes Regan Linton, who uses a wheelchair as a result of a spinal cord injury, in the role of Christopher's teacher, Siobhan. That role was not specifically written for an actor in a wheelchair and, in fact, both Christoher and Siobhan have previously been played by actors without disabilities. In Christopher's case, Reuler says that practice has become known as "cripface," in the same way that "blackface" and "yellowface" are used to describe the whitewashing of people-of-color roles.
"Are we doing anything special or are we just doing what's right and it's an indictment of the rest of the field?" Reuler asks. "This is certainly consistent with the mission of Mixed Blood and how we walk our talk, which includes race, gender, disability and any number of other things."
One key to what could be called ability-conscious casting is tossing out a wide net, says Reuler, which can mean national searches for talent. That's possible for Mixed Blood because the theater keeps three apartments, year-round, which can be used to house out-of-town performers (those apartments couldn't accommodate Linton, who's also a UCSD grad, so accessible housing was arranged for her).
All of which, Reuler says, is simply the way it should be when theaters want to cast authentically and do excellent work: "It's all about finding the best people to play these roles."