Spotlight – Oscar Blustin, Director of The Black Staircase
David Knowles sits down with Oscar Blustin
David Knowles asks the questions of Oscar Blustin, A Castle Graduate who now works as a professional director.
How have you found the jump between directing in a university setting and professionally?
I think at some point I assumed that every professional theatre would be kitted out with the latest high-tech equipement and state-of-the-art rehearsal facilities, when in fact the problems we faced in Durham's Assembly Rooms were very similar to those I face now in any Fringe or off-West End venue in London. Things like not having enough lights, or power, or tech time. Or rehearsal time. I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to assist and associate direct professional shows in London and America from the end of my first year at Durham, which I think gave me a much clearer idea of what I was heading for. The most exciting difference for me has been working with designers, which we didn't really do in Durham. I love the process of creative collaboration that goes on in the months.
What do you think the Durham Theatre scene taught you about directing?
So much. The fact that there's a show every week in the Assembly Rooms is just brilliant. From one point of view, you can see so much theatre each year, from another you can get involved with as many productions as you have time for. Everyone has such different styles and priorities that there was always some technique or idea to think about/steal. In second and third year, I started to pick shows that would force me to focus on a certain part of directing, rather than just doing shows I liked or shows I thought would sell, and that's something that the Durham theatre scene really allows. For instance in third year I put on a production of David Hare's The Blue Room specifically because I felt my character work, as a director, was weak, and I wanted a show which required clear differentiation between characters. (The Blue Room gives two actors five characters each, daisy-chaining them together, one after the other). Crucially, the Durham Theatre scene taught me how to compromise, and scale my ideas to what was manageable.
What was and why did you write the Black Staircase?
The World Heritage Centre (and the wonderful Seif El-Rashidi) commissioned a piece of work to 'show off' the Castle for the 25th Anniversary of the foundation of the World Heritage Site. I've always been fascinated by all the stories of hauntings in the Castle so devised The Black Staircase – which tells the stories (based loosely in fact…) of several of the Castle's most exciting and frequently reported ghosts. The show was a promenade piece, with several storylines from different time periods running simultaneously in different parts of the building. The Castle is such a fun place to work – there are so many rooms and so much history in each one. I hope the show will encourage other directors to explore the possibilities of Durham's magical and unique found spaces.
What has been your most exciting project to date and why?
Probably working on a production of Hamlet in a regional theatre in Vermont. There's much less exposure to Shakespeare in America than over here – frequently audience members who weren't familiar with the story would react audibly to moments like Gertrude drinking from the poisoned cup. In several shows people would forget themselves and shout out "Don't drink!" It was such a thrill to hear a story we know so well have all the power of a world premiere. I'm currently writing an intricate series of short plays for certain people's homes, which is a pretty exciting and unusual project..
What advice would you give to any budding directors at Durham?
Hmm. Not sure – I'm not really a big of giving advice. Probably something general and useless like 'take risks'. The best advice I've been given was 'read the play over and over and over before starting rehearsals'. Also see as much theatre as you can, and find someone to discuss it with.
What is the play you would most like to direct and why?
I get asked this question a lot and never have an answer. It depends so much on the space I think. There's a play called 'The Strange Passenger' by Sonja Linden that I'm dying to direct. All my favourite plays I'm far too young for at the moment. Things like 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' One day, if ever I've distanced myself enough from the Donmar's surpassingly brilliant production, I'd love to direct John Logan's 'Red'.
Do you have a philosophy of acting that you can sum up in a sentence?
No. 'Be honest' I suppose. One of the greatest thrills as a director is to revel in the individuality of every actor you see, and the way those individuals interact. Different approaches work for different actors, there's never anything in particular I look for.