Dustin Britt of St. John’s Metropolitan Church MARAT / SADE
A new production of THE PERSECUTION AND THE ASSASSINATION OF JEAN-PAUL MARAT PERFORMED BY THE INMATES OF THE ASYLUM OF CHARENTON UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE Marquis de Sade by Peter Weiss will be presented live and in person from July 23 to August 8 in St John’s Metropolitan Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing the director of the upcoming production, Dustin Britt. He has been a director of the Triangle for more than twenty years as an actor, stage manager, decorator, musical director, playwright, educator, artistic journalist and director with more than a dozen theater companies. He has directed productions for Seed Art Share (THE MIRACLE WORKER), Sonorous Road (NO CONTEST, A TELLER’S TALE), North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theater (HEATHERS, deputy director) and Bare Theater (SHAKESBEER, SHAKESBEER II: THE BARD STRIKES BACK, TIMON D’ATHÈNES, SHAKESQUEER, and their 2020 MARAT / SADE production). He has also completed extensive training with Theatrical Intimacy Education, is certified in Mental Health First Aid, and holds a Master of Arts in Special Education from East Carolina University.
To begin with, how are you?
DB: I’m doing pretty well. The rehearsals are going well and I do well when I’m busy. So things are good.
Could you tell us about this upcoming production that you are conducting at St. John’s Metropolitan Church?
DB: They were kind enough to host our production of this piece. It’s kind of a redesign of a production that took place in 2020 that Bare Theater produced and that I directed. We were only able to run for one weekend, but COVID hit and we unfortunately had to stop the show. But a year and a half later I got most of the same actors together, we’re in a new place with new direction, new actors, new approaches and a new space. We are delighted to offer a new interpretation. So even for the people who were lucky enough to see it in 2020, they will definitely have a new experience if they come back now.
How are the rehearsals going?
DB: Right now we’re still coming together to go over the lines and work on the songs because it’s been a year and a half since we got together and worked on material. So far we’ve had several Zoom meetings to do character work, get the tongue back in our bones. We also met at my house a few times to make line crossings. In a few days, we’re actually going to be heading back to the hall together for some real rehearsals, which unlike most processes, we actually start with a series of the whole show to see where we are at and what we remember. Usually this is not where we start, but we only rehearse for two weeks since most of it has already been done. So the cast have done a lot of homework over this year and a half.
As the whole world slowly emerges from this pandemic, what does it mean for you to present this production to an audience in person?
DB: First of all, when we closed production in 2020, we asked permission from the publisher to make a filmed version for broadcast or live stream. But the author’s estate declined. So we knew that in person was going to be the way to go. I think it turned out to be a blessing. This room depends so much on being in the room with this group of people, with this group of asylum inmates and the people watching over them. No one ever leaves the stage once they are there, and the audience surrounds the room. So we are all very together. It is very intimate. The audience knows it’s there and the cast knows the audience is there. There are a lot of psychological and musical interactions. So doing it on Zoom with my cast is amazing and could definitely portray their character successfully on Zoom. It’s a play that requires such a close connection between the actors and the others, as well as between the audience and the characters. These characters are very physical with each other. Playing live music is also very difficult. He syncs online, so he really has to be in person for this to work.
Going back to the beginning, how did you get started in the theater?
DB: I played my first piece at the age of five, like many of us of course. Since then, I have hardly ever quit. I was very involved in theater in middle school and high school. Then I left the theater for all of my college experience because I was heading into education. I always worked as a teacher during daylight hours. Then, while I was teaching, a friend of mine called me up and said, “Hey, there’s an audition for this piece coming up. You are very funny and goofy and silly. I was like, “I never did a community theater show. I only did school shows.” Still, I tried anyway, walked in and thought, “Oh, that must be very easy.” I then quickly learned that it was rare to be on a show, but after that I just kept auditioning and auditioning and ended up being on some boards. Then I got a few theater companies to let me run and it’s kind of built from there. I’m still looking for the next project.
You’ve done a lot of things as a director over the years. What made you want to try your hand at different aspects of this art form?
DB: At the start, it was about having an idea for a specific project that I had in mind. I would walk up to a business and say, “Hey, I’d like to run this. Or someone would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, we need a stage manager for this production. Would you like to come do that for us? So it’s a combination of people who need me to do something and I tend to say yes, or there’s a role I want to audition for or a play I want to direct. If this is a company I want to work with and it’s content that I love, I tend to want to jump in any way I can. I have a large toolbox and would like to use my variety of tools.
As a journalist who has covered the theater as a journalist, what does it usually do to you when other people come to see a production in which you are involved?
DB: That’s an incredible question. Before writing theatrical reviews myself, I had never really paid attention to theatrical criticism until I was on stage. It never even occurred to me that the reviews were happening even outside of the New York Times. So it wasn’t until I started doing a few shows that I thought, “Oh, there are reviews”. When I had small roles I usually didn’t get mentioned, but every once in a while I would get a tiny little mention somewhere and it was never overwhelmingly negative. So I never really had a negative reaction to reviews because nobody ever sued me. But the more I got to know the critics and the community and the directors and community actors, I have to try just like any actor or director has to try not to take it personally. Whether it’s positive praise or a review, I either have to skip it or read it and say, “Okay, that’s an observation. I will continue what I am doing. It is very difficult not to take the criticisms personally. It’s very hard not to want to change some of your practices based on this perception, especially when it’s someone you respect as a journalist. It’s difficult, but I try to remind myself that “When you write a review of a play, what are you looking for? So I say to myself as an actor and director, “Oh, he’s looking for the best that we can be, or she’s looking for the best or they are looking for the best that we can be.” So I try to stay positive as an actor. I try not to read reviews as an actor. I usually read reviews as a director because the show is already ready and the review is not going to make me change my practice as an actor, I’m always afraid that a reviewer will say something that consciously does to me. or subconsciously adjust what I am doing.
Before you go, do you have any other upcoming projects that you would like to share with us?
DB: Nothing that I can officially announce at the moment. There’s something I’m going to be doing next summer in Henderson, and we’re very excited about it. But the closest thing to come is Marat / Sade. It’s a fascinating, scary, shocking and funny musical twisted nightmare dream. That’s definitely my full attention right now.
Dustin, thank you very much for taking your time to this interview. It was great to be able to talk to you.
DB: Thanks a lot, Jeffrey.
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