We got to chat with Brittany Campbell who is currently playing Eliza Dolittle at the Olney Theater's production of My Fair Lady. You read that right, there is a black woman, playing Eliza Dolittle. So pull up a seat and be inspired by the journey and discoveries of this BOLD woman.
Brittany Campbell is a singer, songwriter, actor, and visual artist, from Brooklyn, NY (Flatbush to be exact). She got her start in opera and began maneuvering through the industry at the age of 7, which led to her pursuing a degree in musical theatre at Carnegie Melon University. Upon graduating she explored different paths of expressing herself through the arts and has discovered the beauty of finding your unique place in the business.
Tell us about creating your own work?
When I graduated I was put under the wing of a Sony producer and I made a record through that partnership. Being introduced to the music industry, at such a high level, was a crazy experience because it's another beast, but I learned a lot in that time. People pleasing was always a battle for me early on, even when it came to my own music. Trying to make the right sounds, trying to do the right things, it wasn't until I broke away from Sony that I was able to figure out what it was that I really wanted to say and why I felt it was important. I feel a spiritual connection to music, and I feel it is the best way that I communicate, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how people can connect, feel, and realize that when they are in the same room listening to us that we are one in the same.
[From there, I've discovered that] music always leads back to visual art, because everything is so visual and I've had to take on these skills and dive deeply into making visual art to support myself, which has been both stressful and good, so I do a lot of freelancing.
What has your experience been with auditioning and pursuing acting?
It has been an interesting ride because I have been auditioning since I was 7 years old, but it never really felt like it was my decision. Which is why I think after I graduated from college I went into the music industry. I knew that's what I wanted to do and that it fit into my artistic vision. Through the experience of creating stuff that was my own, my confidence grew. I became more self-realized, and when I began to miss theatre and was ready to come back ( I took four years off just doing music) I was in a very different place. I was empowered. I am a creator in my own way, so when I am in an audition I can say, "this is where I am, this is what I have to offer," instead of feeling like I have to get this audition "right." I have found that it's been more comfortable, because it feels more like a collaboration. It's been a journey, and I am grateful that I took the time off that I did, so that I could come back to [theatre] on my own terms.
Let's talk about My Fair Lady. How did this experience come about and what was the audition experience like?
I recently switched management and it was the very first appointment they sent me out on. The casting directors had cast me as Cinderella in a production of Into the Woods, but I couldn't do it, so they knew I was able to sing legit. While I was doubtful that they would actually hire me, I was going to go anyway. What's interesting is that I hated the movie and I have always hated the character, Eliza Dolittle. She made no sense to me. Who and what is this down trodden "victimy" girl, who sells flowers on the street? How are you surviving if you're like that? It just made no sense to me, but I was committed to creating an Eliza the way I believed she should be. I get to the audition and I am the only person of color.
I show up in Doc Martins and a mesh shirt, and upon entering the room I realize that I learned the callback material instead of the initial material, so I do the callback material, and the director comes up to me and says, "Where did you come from just now?" We laughed and he begin to ask me about the role. I felt free to be honest in telling him that I didn't like the role because it never made sense to me, but I wanted to come in because I wanted to portray the character in a way that made sense to me. I see Eliza with integrity, I see her with strength, and with humor. In that discussion, I realized that we saw eye to eye, and I felt a natural chemistry between us and that we had the same vision for who this character could be and the major themes of the play. Getting to play with the creative team, and feeling like we were on equal ground (in both having something to contribute) felt so wonderful, and I left feeling very strongly that I got it. Hours after the callback I got a call offering me the role.
What has been your experience in being a part of the production?
The Olney is a lovely place. The rehearsal process was really intense. The director knew what he wanted and there was always forward momentum [He had directed this show in a more traditional way and for this production we were discovering new ways of telling it]. We never really talked about the fact that I was a black Eliza Dolittle after my audition, it was never an issue creatively, but in previews, I was told that one of the donors went to the artistic director and told him, "I don't think Eliza Dolittle should ever be black." She said she was offended, but had no explanation to speak to why she was so offended. Thats when I realized where I was. That's when you realize that America is "America". You work hard to build a character, and hope that you can speak on a universal level, and it's hurtful to hear that [someone is offended by nothing other than your race], but it's also exactly why I have to do this show. Because there is no reason why Eliza Dolittle's character and experience cannot be informed by being a black woman. I actually think it can be deepened and richened.
How has the experience shaped you and how you see you see yourself?
It's complicated because I don't think we want to do so many different things. I am grappling with, learning how to balance everything I do, to make all of my projects go hand in hand, with the vision that they are all working together to accomplish the same goal. I am an actor in "She's Gotta Have It," but that manifested into doing a lot of visual art for Spike Lee. I have learned that it's weird to navigate, but it can all work, it just requires confidence. Learning to believe that you can have all the things that you set your mind on. Coming into this production [I had to change gears], I was so afraid, but I had to just jump in the water, be brave, and show up and do it.
Thanks Brittany for taking time to sit with us. You are a BOLD Woman!
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