BWW Interview: Josh Breckenridge of DAVE at Arena Stage
Josh Breckenridge stars as Duane Bolden in Arena Stage's upcoming premiere of "Dave," which opens July 13th and runs through August 19th. Breckenridge is known for a number of roles including his current run as the Dance Captain and standby in "Come From Away" and Olen Montgomery in "Scottsboro Boys." He was last seen on the DC stage as the Doctor in the first national tour of "The Book of Mormon."
(This interview has been transcribed from written notes from the conversation.)
Welcome to DC! How does it feel to be here for this show?
It's great to be in the land of the story. We're on the third week of rehearsals - tech rehearsals start July 6. There are a lot of technical elements, but we're still in the rehearsal space, but we've been able to prepare by having set pieces in space, which has been great.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background? What got you interested in theatre, and specifically in dance?
I teach Broadway Classroom dance courses in New York, and I tell my students that my first exposure to theatre was "Annie" at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, in Southern California. I saw the production and I said to myself, "That's what I want to do. I want to be the orphan in the red wig." It was my first time seeing a musical, but then I joined drama and choir, and I played Riff in West Side Story. Then I discovered I could make a career in this profession.
I auditioned for twelve schools, and got into most of them; I decided to go to University of Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music. I landed my first Broadway show within first three months of arriving in NY: "The Ritz" at Studio 54. I had a survival job at the Ambassador Theatre (where "Chicago" plays) selling refreshments, but I didn't enjoy it, or feel motivated by it. I didn't have my equity card yet, and it was a big risk going to New York without any equity points or even a candidacy. But my first "adult" show was "Ragtime," and a lot of people weren't happy with the union then, so I hadn't gotten it. I did get my card from a three-week reading at Playwright Horizons, then I booked "The Ritz." It's been nonstop since.
It looks like you joined "Come From Away" after its DC run - when did you join the cast?
I joined "Come From Away" for the Toronto run before heading to Broadway, but the producers flew us down to DC to watch the show here as part of our preparation.
What did you think of the choreography in the show, especially as the dance captain?
I was amazed by how pedestrian the movements are, how simple. Dance was an aid to tell the story, and it was great. It was also a hard job being dance captain because the line is blurred between dance and blocking. It's a hard show to do. I was standby for six out of the seven male characters and dance captain, but all of the actors on stage have to have a swing mindset. The choreography is beautiful - I had a blast doing it. I'm also really glad the producers allowed me to take the leave of absence to do "Dave" - my substitute is actually from the DC production. So I'll do ten weeks here, then go back two days later.
The previous shows you've done ("Come From Away" and "Scottsboro Boys") are more serious - how does it compare preparing for a comedy?
I was recently comparing these shows. In my career so far, I've had great opportunities to do these shows based on truth, people who lived and are still living, historical facts, etc. Dave is termed as a romantic comedy fairy tale, but it echos our current situation, politically speaking. I would compare it to "Scottsboro" and "Come From Away" in that it has a message that needs to get out there. "Scottsboro Boys" had a beautiful, pointent message to get across that felt very timely. "Come From Away," takes you through the roller coaster of that day as an individual.
With "Dave," we're dealing with a very rough political time; it plays toward both political sides of the aisle. Blue or red, I think you'll enjoy this show. The team has constructed it to feel very now, and very relatable. While it's a romantic fairy tale comedy, there are so many parallels to things that are current. Most audiences will find it relatable to our current situation. We often feel like our vote or voice or opinions don't matter, but this show is about an everyday man whose voice does have an impact, is able to make change. We're stronger as a whole, and stronger than we might think.
How do you handle audiences projecting politics?
We're doing a political-themed show in the mother of political places - it's going to happen. But Arena is an amazing regional theater, and it's in the city where it all happens. People will form opinions on both sides and feel what they feel, but at the end of the day it's a good show with a beautiful message.
If you come ready to judge it, that's the mindset you're in. You need an open heart and mind; if you come with an open mind, come for entertainment, you'll have a much better time. People will formulate whatever opinions they have, but it lives in this fairy tale fictional state, and hopefully people will be able to enjoy without taking it as a huge comment on the current administration. It's a beautiful story, with a couple of winks at current situation without outright finger-pointing theatre.
"Dave" was released in 1993, under a very different political climate. How do you think it will translate to today's audiences?
It wouldn't have done the show a service to keep it in 1993 - we have iPhones as props, and other modern touches. But it's a relatable and universal story. People will formulate which president they think is relatable to that character, but the goal was for him to embody different historical presidents. It could have been done exactly as the movie was, but in each show, there needs to be a reason to tell the story. I'm not a fan of musicals that are from the page the same as the movie script - there has to be a story you want to tell.
The crew did a fantastic job telling the story, paying homage to a wonderful piece. We have the Warner Brothers' crew on site to help, but it's done for a reason with a new twist. Because it's current day, there will be moments in the show that acknowledge how quickly news can travel.
Tell me a little about your character, Duane, and how you prepared for the role.
My role as secret service agent has been fun to research. I love diving into the world of the character. I've done this research for most of my roles - the historical material and research is endless. I would go to archives, and I met the children of the Scottsboro Boys. "Come From Away" was fascinating, because the people were still living and came to performances fairly often.
I nerded out once again with this role, and got books on Secret Service and Washington. This environment was so rich. I saw an agent ordering coffee, and was tempted to strike up a conversation, which I did. It's great, because you learn things about them you didn't know. We forget they're real people because of the stoic persona they carry. It's been fun to just marinate in that world, both the literature and the business. We're huge on getting and learning different techniques of viewpoints [an method the director co-created for the stage], and we even have storytime before rehearsals, where we share interactions, people we met, things we've learned. We also watched footage of Obama greeting people, and studied how Secret Service reacts and protects. Acting is so much of carrying a persona, but also what's underneath, much like the agents - they have a public persona, but there's a lot more underneath.
I'm really blessed to be a part of this, and the team is making it a blast. It's thrilling to be part of such a humble, ready-to-play-and-work team, and it's been fun for all of us to get to put in our own input.
The World Premiere of "Dave," which is adapted from the Oscar-nominated film, runs July 13th through August 19th at the Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage.