Interview with Until the Flood director Julie Janson

UNTIL THE FLOOD stopped me cold”: an interview with director Julie Janson

Julie Janson, the director of Until the Flood, is working with Dominion Stage for the first time. She has also directed Leaving Iowa, Oleanna, and Amadeus for Providence Players of Fairfax, Other Desert Cities for Peace Mountain Theatre Company, and Shadow Box and Reckless for Boston University Stage Troupe.
Recently, Dominion Stage interviewed Janson about how she came to choose Flood, its powerful and timely subject matter, and her approach to the show as a director. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
DOMINION STAGE: You’ve been wanting to direct this play for several years. What first drew you to it?

JULIE JANSON: Honestly, it was the script. In an effort to expand my ideas and options, I subscribe to a service that sends me a box of scripts every few months. I was on vacation, working through a pile of scripts, and Until the Flood stopped me cold. Sometimes you read something and just connect with it. I put it down and said, “I have to do this show.” Michael Brown’s death and the response to it had a profound impact on me. I was glued to the screen during those weeks, watching the protests and listening to the stories of all involved. Previously, I was very focused on gender inequality, but it was during this time that I realized that racial equality was something equally deserving of my time and attention. We spend our time on what we love, what’s important to us. I spend so much of my time doing theater and I wanted to use that time towards not just a hobby I love but furthering my values.

DOMINION STAGE:  Dael Orlandersmith has given her play a very uncommon structure: a series of monologues presented by composite characters — none of whom interact — and whose words are taken from actual interview material. What challenges — and what benefits — has this structure presented you as a director?
JULIE JANSON: It’s immensely beneficial to be able to schedule one-on-one time with the individual actors because we could keep the schedule flexible and accommodating. The challenge is that the characters aren’t seeing and hearing the work of the others, which means they may not be picking up all of the themes of the play. Maggie Landis, our stage manager turned assistant director, and I took great care to point out these themes, but we also used “improv jams” to bring the entire cast together. In these rehearsals we would send partners or small groups into breakout rooms and this led to really profound discoveries about just how much these characters have in common. And of course, because these characters are based on real people, the message is that we ALL have a lot more in common than we may think.
DOMINION STAGE:  This year has seen a frightening number of high-profile killings of black Americans by police officers, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor just to name of a few. And the public outcry has been on a scale not seen in decades. Has Michael Brown’s story been lost in all this? How are this year’s events impacting the production?
JULIE JANSON: My original intent with this play was to serve as a reflection on the five years since Michael Brown’s death. Had anything really changed? Had we simply moved on from this powerful, intense moment in time? The deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd gave us an answer and breathed urgency into this show. Instead of simply reflecting on the past, this show now poses a challenge to the here and now: What did we do after Michael Brown? What did we learn? And what might we do differently now that we know for a fact that Michael Brown was not enough to achieve the change so many said we wanted five years ago?
As far as the year itself, this cast and crew has overcome monumental challenges with grace and compassion. Everyone was incredible adaptable as we experimented with rehearsal scheduling and formats to keep everyone safe from COVID. Then, just as we entered our final weeks of on-location shooting, the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol occurred. We were supposed to have a virtual run-through that night, and there were mixed emotions about whether or not to rehearse. Some people welcomed the distraction, but some were in shock and even fearful for family members living close by, and we ultimately canceled. After that horrific event, some actors found an even deeper emotional connection to their piece. So many of us are carrying around so many raw emotions these days, and a chance to produce socially relevant material can be cathartic.
DOMINION STAGE: Does this show have comparisons to any others that you’ve directed or performed in?
JULIE JANSON: I’m reminded of Oleanna, which I directed during the height of the #MeToo movement. Audience emotions were raw on the subject, and it spurred very meaningful dialogue in post-performance conversations. I sincerely hope that even though we won’t be in person, that the performances of these brave and talented actors, coupled with Orlandersmith’s compelling and fearless script, that this show will provoke thought, dialogue, and meaningful action. The entire team hopes that when people see this show, they appreciate that while we see black and white extremes on the news, the vast majority of us are living in the middle. A GRAY middle that is complex, curious, fearful, hopeful, and completely, fully, human.

Until the Flood is streaming online January 22-24. To make your free reservation to see the show, go to Ticket link and updates for Until the Flood – DOMINION STAGE

Be advised that Until the Flood contains strong language, including racial slurs. As such, it may not be suitable for all audience members.