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‘Not Understanding Is Really Satisfying’: A Director Keeps You Thinking

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It did not escape her notice that, though she had directed at LCT three times before, the offer to become a resident director came after the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent release of the “We See You, White American Theater” document that led many theaters to hire Black associates.

“It seems pretty clear,” she said, that her hiring was part of that wave. But, she noted, “Placing me in a resident director position is a commitment that is real and will manifest inside of the work.” Speaking more broadly, she said, “This has been called a racial reckoning. Nothing has been solved yet, but there is an awareness and a kind of plain, open speaking of what used to only be spoken behind closed doors with particular groups of people. I think that shift is significant.”

She continued: “The question now is, what will the future bring? We are literally looking at a play about the cycles of history. Are we going to circle back around again to the same old [stuff], or are we going to move forward?”

Seen in the light of cycles of history, Blain-Cruz’s much-noted bubbly approach to her work may have a deeper significance. It’s not simply that as the set designer Adam Rigg puts it, “The goofiness and joy and play she brings into the room fortifies you for how rigorous she is — it totally makes the rigor possible, so you’re much more open to the large ideas and the large challenges of the kind of design she yearns for.” Or that, as Drury put it, “There’s a lot of fighting embarrassment when you’re doing theater, and her ability to laugh at herself helps you get out of your own head and makes you less afraid to try an idea.”

It is also this: Carving out room for people of color to make work on a large scale is “a little bit political,” Blain-Cruz said. “We deserve a space that is joyous! I’m speaking particularly for Black and brown folks who have been working in this field for a long time and have had traumatizing experiences. The space to experience silliness, love and tenderness — I bring that to my rehearsals not only as a work ethic, but also a hope for the way I want the world to work. That for me is liberation. Right? When people feel free to create together.”

She slipped into a character voice as she described the gateway moment when, as a 10-year-old, she attended “La Traviata” at the Metropolitan Opera next door.

“I was a little kid, running into the theater like, What is this? The spectacle of it, the largeness of it, was always really inspiring.” While she has since directed some operas (not at the Met, though) and a musical about Miriam Makeba, “Dreaming Zenzile,” which begins performances next month at New York Theater Workshop, “Skin” at LCT is clearly Blain-Cruz’s biggest show.

“I get very excited and also terrified. I’m like, ‘OK, I have it. Do I have it? Am I going to do it? I’ve got to do it big.” She followed this moment of self-coaching with — what else? — a hearty laugh.