Director Briana Brown on new work, challenges and working with playwrights


For our third instalment, Salt’s Director and Dramaturge Briana Brown shares her thoughts on approaching new work, working with playwrights, and what excites her about Salt.

As a director, how do you approach a new work? 

I think of the premiere production of any play as the “playwright’s production.” My job in developing new work is to ensure that I am clear about the playwright’s vision and ensure that all the elements at work support the story that the playwright is interested in telling. As a playwright myself, I understand the simultaneous desire to, and fear of, handing over your story to someone else. Erin and I connected pretty instantly, and I feel quite honoured by the trust and respect she has granted me.

Erin Vandenberg and Briana Brown; Photo by Chris Baker

Erin Vandenberg and Briana Brown; Photo by Chris Baker

In the past, I have had long-standing relationships with the writers whose work I put onstage for the first time. Erin and I met only a few months ago, and so my approach has been to ensure, before heading into rehearsal, that we are as in tune as possible, and that we are communicating with one another honestly and successfully. Basically we just met and got married and we’re about to go on our first big trip and both of our families are going to be there and we really need to make sure shit’s solid before we go do that.

What do you find particularly exciting and challenging about Salt?

Oh man, do I love this play. The characters are so visceral and truthful and vulnerable and strong. There is so much to mine and uncover in each one of them. A good friend of mine [Lisa Li] originally sent me the Call for Directors. She said she thought it was ‘up my alley’. And reading Salt for the first time was such an interesting experience, because it explores a lot of territory that I’ve navigated in my own work – alcoholism, personal responsibility, the backdrop of a rural life – but approaches it in a completely different way. I love this play because it explores things I care deeply about, but with a distinct style and point of view to which I’d never been exposed. I feel like I am learning and growing as a result of spending time here.  

What is challenging about it is tricky to articulate, but I will do my best: Because Erin has, in fact, managed to reflect the state of mental illness and addiction within the very structure of the piece, I find myself getting lost in it at times. I spent three years studying screenwriting which was described by one of my professors as ‘writing with a baseball bat’. Erin, however, writes with a paintbrush. One of those tiny, delicate ones. So there’s an inner battle between this programmed need in me for a clear and transparent “Hero’s Journey”, with a clear-cut cause-and-effect to each action, while simultaneously acknowledging and loving that this is something intentionally Other than that. And that’s why it’s so beautiful. I truly believe that through each small battle, Erin and I will find our way to a perfect container that can comfortably hold both.

Any insights into how you envision the play on stage?

Three words I keep returning to are: contained, claustrophobic, spiralling. In this play, the house becomes an entire world – what lies beyond it, in many ways, is unknown. And the characters struggle to decide whether the familiar or the foreign is most frightening. Keeping everything contained and claustrophobic is a goal of mine.

My other big goal is to mine the humour in the piece. Dark as it is, it’s truly funny, and I made sure in the casting process to find people who have that skill in their back pockets.

What excites you the most about creating theatre?

I love the magic that happens when a whole team of people, with entirely different skill sets, come together to tell one story. My favourite place in the world to be is in rehearsal, especially during tech week, when all of those elements are coming together at once. I’m constantly in awe of the skill and passion of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with, and am inspired by the work that everyone’s contributed to Salt so far.

Rehearsal photos feature Briana Brown, Cosette Derome, Geoffrey Armour and Lucy Hill; photos by Erin Vandenberg.