Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 6: Cassandra Dutt

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In Part Six of a series of interviews with cast members of Cohesion Theatre Company’s Neverwhere, meet Cassandra Dutt.

Patricia: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you on local stages and some roles you have played.

Cassandra Dutt.
Cassandra Dutt.

Cassandra: My name is Cassandra Dutt and I’m a structural engineer moonlighting as an actress, theatre staffer, and scenic designer in the Baltimore theatre scene. Recent roles include Rosencrantz in Hamlet, Nancy in A Little Bit Not Normal, and Dee Dee in Thirteen Dead Husbands at Cohesion Theatre Company and Salyer in Last of the Boys, Izzy in Seminar, and Gretchen in Boeing Boeing at the Fells Point Corner Theatre.

Why did you want to become a member of the cast of Neverwhere? 

I love theatre that takes risks and I also love working with Director Brad Norris. With Brad, no idea is too big or too crazy to try and I knew this would make for an incredible environment to work in as we created the immense, risky world of London Below. I knew there would be no playing it safe with Neverwhere and I knew that all of the time, effort, and fear would pay off in a huge way (and it definitely has!).

Had you read Neverwhere prior to being cast in this play? Had you seen the BBC series?

I had not read the novel, watched the television show, or listened to the radio series prior to auditioning. Those are all things I did almost immediately after being cast. I went into the callback having only read the script, which is a wonder unto itself. The story was so striking in its adapted and condensed form that I was SO excited to get my hands on anything Neverwhere-related months before rehearsals even started. I can honestly say that it is now one of my very favorite fantasy stories!

Briefly describe your character for those who may be unfamiliar with the story (no spoilers!).

Hunter is a mysterious, fierce, and highly skilled warrior who has traveled to countless worlds Below to hunt vicious and magical beasts of legend. Though she shares very little about herself, she is described as a tall, quarterstaff-wielding woman with an accent that can’t quite be placed. We meet her well into Richard’s journey through London Below and she joins the party in search of the Angel Islington as the Lady Door’s bodyguard.

Does this character have any of your personality or character traits? Any traits you aspire to have?

Hunter, much like myself, is driven by a big picture goal. Whether to slay the Beast of London or to backpack some of the world’s most challenging trails, we both work tirelessly to reach our (sometimes unrealistic) goals.

This role has been a real exercise in fearlessness and self-confidence on stage for me. Those are two qualities that Hunter possesses in spades and they are something that I have really had to work on to make this character come to life. I always love the impact that a fictional character can have on the way I carry myself and I hope that confidence and fearlessness sticks with me long after I have left London Below.

What were some of the challenges you faced while learning your role and how did you work through them?

Neverwhere has presented me with an entirely new set of challenges on the stage, far beyond text work and character development. Becoming comfortable scaling and being moved on the top of the giant rolling set pieces was certainly one very challenging aspect of the show.

The biggest challenge for me, however, was the fight choreography. Coming into Neverwhere, I had no experience with extensive fight choreography and had never picked up a quarter staff in my life. The learning curve was steep. I spent all of my spare time with the staff in my hands, running through the choreography every chance I got. Fight Choreographer Jon Rubin was reassuring and patient as I struggled through the first few weeks until I became comfortable with what I was doing. Now I’m hooked. I love hearing the audience react through the fight sequences (though I certainly get a pang of nerves right before they happen!).

Cassandra Dutt (Hunter). Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.
Cassandra Dutt (Hunter). Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.

You also played a memorable character named Sylvia who was very different from Hunter. Was it difficult to move between the two roles throughout the play?

I am very lucky in that I always have about 10 minutes to transition between characters, which is far more than my amazing cast mates. Because Sylvia and Hunter are so different and I have so much time to center myself before the switch, it never seemed like a difficult transition.

What have you enjoyed most about this experience since beginning rehearsals?

This ensemble is a really special group of people, some of whom I had worked with before and some newcomers. We spent SO much time together as we were all called to pretty much every rehearsal, five days a week. I have truly enjoyed the process of rehearsing and creating Neverwhere with the cast and creative team. Everyone’s energy and love for the theatre is infectious and I genuinely love each of them for what they bring to the table.

What has impressed you most about your fellow cast members and/or crew?

Besides being a wildly talented group of people, they are all the hardest working bunch of artists I have had the pleasure of working with. This show requires dedication, stamina, and hustle. The commitment and energy that everyone brought to the table is what has made this show what it is. As an ensemble and creative team, we have created a safe space to work and we will not let anyone fail. It has been amazing to work in this environment and to see what a dedicated, close knit team can create. 

Why do you think audiences should come see the show?

Neverwhere is unlike anything you have seen on the small stages of Baltimore. It is larger than life, risky, and truly magical. With superb character acting by a dedicated cast and beautiful design work by the amazing design team, you will be transported to a world unlike your own. Neverwhere is a living and breathing beast that is unwilling to acknowledge the boundaries of conventional theatre and that is what makes it so special.

In addition to being an actor, you are Director of Public Relations and Social Engagement at Cohesion Theatre. How are you feeling as Cohesion closes out its second theatrical season? Is the company where you’d hoped it would be at this stage? What are your hopes for Season 3?

Cassandra Dutt as Hunter and Bobby Henneberg as Varney. Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.
Cassandra Dutt (Hunter) and Bobby Henneberg (Varney). Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.

I am feeling so incredibly grateful to be a part of a new company putting different, exciting, and risky works on the stage in Baltimore. We have really proved our versatility this season, telling four unique and personal stories on the mainstage. Our work starts a conversation both on and offstage and I look forward to seeing where that conversation goes in Season 3.

On top of those other tasks, you have a day job as a structural engineer and are sought-after as a set designer. You are not listed as working with set design for Neverwhere. The ingenious set contains giant two-level structures; surely you had a hand in making sure they were structurally sound?

Those giant boxes were a project tackled by our amazing Set/Lighting Designer (Kel Millionie), Technical Director (Lana Riggins), Director (Brad Norris), Welder (Peter Machen), and myself. I simply did some calculations to make sure the structures, built both out of steel and wood, would be able to handle the loads imposed by the cast and that everyone would feel stable and safe seven feet in the air. It was fun to see my work life and theatre life meet in the middle.

What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming roles, jobs, or life events you’d like to mention?

I think a nap is next for me! I’ve been in production for about a year, both acting and set designing (sometimes simultaneously), and I am ready to recharge my batteries. I’m not sure when I will be back on the stage as I will be spending a full month this fall backpacking through Southeast Asia but I know that my work with Cohesion (aka setting unrealistic goals and then meeting them) will keep me plenty involved in the theatre scene until I hit the stage again.

BIO: Cassandra Dutt (Hunter, Sylvia) is thrilled to be closing out the theatrical season with Cohesion Theatre Company. She is a graduate of Lehigh University where she received an integrated degree in theatre, architecture, and structural engineering. Previously with Cohesion, she has appeared in Hamlet (Rozencrantz), A Little Bit Not Normal (Nancy), Thirteen Dead Husbands (Dee Dee). Other recent performance credits include Last of the Boys, Seminar, and Boeing Boeing at the Fells Point Corner Theatre and Edward II at Spotlighters Theatre. Outside of the theatre, Casey is a structural engineer with the McLaren Engineering Group. To all at Cohesion for a wonderful season, much love and thanks.

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Neverwhere plays through June 19, 2016 at Cohesion Theatre, performing at United Evangelical Church – 3200 Dillon Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, buy them at the box office or online.

LINKS:
Review of Neverwhere on DCMetroTheaterArts by Patricia Mitchell.

Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 1: Joseph Coracle.

Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 2: Cori Dioquino.

Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 3: Jonas David Grey.

Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 4: Matthew Lindsay Payne.

Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 5: Bobby Henneberg.

Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 6: Cassandra Dutt.