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BWW Interview: Dustin Britt of St. John's Metropolitan Church's MARAT/SADE


Britt discusses all about the process, and more.

BWW Interview: Dustin Britt of St. John's Metropolitan Church's MARAT/SADE

A new production of THE PERSECUTION AND ASSASSINATION OF JEAN-PAUL MARAT AS 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 23rd-August 8th at St John's Metropolitan Church in Raleigh, NC. I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing the director of the upcoming production, Dustin Britt. He has been a Triangle-based theatremaker for more than twenty years as an actor, stage manager, designer, music director, playwright, educator, arts journalist, and director with over a dozen theatre 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 Theatre (HEATHERS, asst. director), and Bare Theatre (SHAKESBEER, SHAKESBEER II: THE BARD STRIKES BACK, TIMON OF ATHENS, SHAKESQUEER, and their 2020 production of MARAT/SADE). 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 start things off, how are you doing?
DB: I'm doing pretty well. Things are going well with rehearsals, and I do well when I'm busy. So things are good.

Would you mind telling us about this upcoming production you're directing at St. John's Metropolitan Church?
DB: They've been kind enough to host our production of this play. It is sort of a revamp of a production that took place in 2020 that Bare Theatre produced that I directed. We were only able to run for one weekend, but COVID hit, and we unfortunately had to shut the show down. But a year and a half later, I've gathered together most of the same cast, we're at a new location with new staging, some new cast members, some new approaches to it, and a new space. We're excited to bring in a new rendition of it. So even for the people who were lucky enough to see it in 2020, they'll definitely get a new experience if they come back now.

How are rehearsals going?
DB: Currently, we are still in the process of gathering back together to go through lines, and to work through the songs because it's been a year and a half since we've gotten together and worked through material. So far, we've had several Zoom meetings to do some character work, get the language back in our bones. We've gathered at my home a couple of times to do line throughs as well. In a few days, we're actually going to be jumping back into the room together for real proper rehearsals, which unlike most processes, we're actually starting with a run of the whole show to see where we are and what we remember. Usually, that's not where we would begin, but we're only rehearsing for two weeks since most of it has been done before. So the cast has done a lot of homework over this year and a half.

As the whole world is slowly coming out of this pandemic, what does it mean to you to have this production presented to an in-person audience?
DB: First of all, when we closed the production in 2020, we asked permission from the publisher to do a filmed version to broadcast or to live stream it. But the author's estate declined. So we knew that in-person was going to be the way to go. I think that's turned out to be a blessing. This play is so dependent on being in the room with this group of people, with this group of inmates in the asylum and the people that supervise them. No one ever leaves the stage once they're there, and the audience is surrounding the play. So we're all very much together. It's very intimate. The audience is aware that they're there and the cast knows the audience is there. There's a lot of psychological and musical interaction. So doing it over Zoom with my cast is incredible and could definitely portray their character successfully over Zoom. This is a piece that requires such close connection between the actors and each other, as well as the audience and the characters. These characters are very physical with each other. Also playing live music is very difficult. It syncs up online, so it really has to be in person to make it work.

Going back to the beginning, how did you first get started in the theatre?
DB: I did my first play when I was five, as many of us did of course. Since then, I pretty much never stopped. I was very involved in theater in middle and high school. Then I left theater for all of my college experience because I was moving into education. I still worked as a teacher in the daylight hours. Then while I was teaching, a friend of mine called and said, "Hey, there's an audition for this play coming up. You're very funny and goofy and silly. Maybe you should come audition for this." I was like, "I have never done a community theater show. I've only done school shows." Yet, I tried out anyway, I got in, and I was like, "Oh, this must be very easy." I then learned quickly that it was rare to get in a show, but after that, I just kept auditioning and auditioning and ended up on some boards of directors. Then I tricked a couple of theater companies into letting me direct and it's just kind of built from there. I'm always looking for the next project.

You've done quite a lot as a theatremaker over the years. What made you want to try your hand at different aspects of this artform?
DB: Initially, it came down to having a specific project idea I had in mind. I would approach a company and say, "Hey, I would like to direct this." Or someone would come to me and say, "Hey, we need a stage manager for this production. Would you come and do that for us?" So it's a combination of people needing me to do something and I tend to say yes, or there being a role that I want to audition for or a play I want to direct. If it's a company of people that I want to work with and it's content that I love, I tend to want to jump in whatever way that I possibly can. I have a large toolbox and I'd like to use my variety of tools.

As someone who has covered theatre as a journalist, what is it usually like for you when other people come to review a production you happen to be involved with?
DB: That's an incredible question. Before I was writing theater criticism myself, I never really paid any attention to theater criticism at all before I was on stage. It never even occurred to me that reviews even really happened outside of the New York Times. So it wasn't until I started doing a couple of shows that I went, "Oh, there's reviews." When I had small roles, I wasn't usually mentioned, but every now and then I would get a tiny little mention somewhere and it was never hugely negative. So I never really had a negative reaction to the critics because no one ever came after me. But the more I have come to know the critics and the community and the directors and actors in the community, I have to try just as any actor or director has to try to not take it personally. Whether it's positive praise or a criticism, I have to either not read it or read it and say, "Okay, that's an observation. I'm going to move on with what I'm doing." It's very difficult not to take criticism personally. It's very difficult not to want to change some of your practice based on that perception, especially when it's someone that you respect as a journalist. It's difficult, but I try to remind myself that "When you write a critique of a play, what are you looking for?" I then tell 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're looking for the best that we can be." So I try to keep it positive as an actor. I try not to read reviews as an actor. I usually do read reviews as a director because the show's already set and the review isn't going to make me change my practice as an actor, I'm always worried that a critic will say something that will consciously or unconsciously make me adjust what I'm doing.

Before we go, do you have any other upcoming projects that you'd like to share with us?
DB: Not anything that I can officially announce yet. There is something that I'm going to be directing next summer in Henderson, and we're very excited about that. But the closest thing coming up is Marat/Sade
. It is a fascinating, scary, shocking, funny musical twisted nightmare dream. That's definitely got all of my attention at the moment.

Dustin, I thank you very much for devoting your time to this interview. It was great getting to talk to you.
DB: Thank you so much, Jeffrey.

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