Meet Brandon Victor Dixon. Dixon, a Columbia College Class of 2007 graduate, is a two-time Tony Award Nominee. During his career, he has performed in various Broadway shows (including Columbia’s very own Varsity Show). Starting in August 2016, Dixon will assume the role of Aaron Burr in Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway show, Hamilton: An American Musical. As he prepares for his role, I sat down with him to talk about his career in the performing arts and his insights on pursuing your dreams and excelling in your career.
What did you study while at Columbia, and do you have any favorite memories from your time there?
I was an Economics major initially. I left after my first semester senior year, but when I came back and I finished, I was a theater major. My favorite memories from school were of working on the Varsity Show V107 and V108.
What first sparked your interest in theater, and how did you explore that field as a student? Was it mostly through the Varsity Show?
I came to Columbia because I knew what I wanted to do, and I just wanted to go to school in New York so that I could audition and build my career. That’s why I came to Columbia, and I appreciated that Columbia had a campus, and a vibrant curriculum that I could delve into and expand my information base in general. But no, I didn’t go to Columbia to train, or help my career, though a lot of the work I did and the classes I took were of great help and education to me in the theater department at large. I came to Columbia so that I could be in New York.
What were some of the shows you’ve performed in prior to Shuffle Along, and now, Hamilton starting next month?
The Lion King, The Color Purple, Rent, Far from Heaven, The Scottsboro Boys.
With your recent casting as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, how are you preparing for the role? Are you nervous about anything about it?
Nope. It will be a good time. I’m working on a lot of the movement. The movement style is a little different for me so I’m focusing on the movement, but I’m approaching it like anything else. I’m doing my research. I’m learning the material. It’ll be interesting replacing someone in such a big and involved show. I’m going to be learning it even as I’m performing it.
What’s the most surprising or interesting that’s happened to you while performing and go like backstage?
While performing I fell in the orchestra pit one time. That’s one of the more interesting things. I can’t really think of anything that stands out about anything that’s happened backstage but definitely falling in the orchestra pit, that was an interesting one.
What has been your favorite role to perform so far and why?
Eubie Blake in Shuffle Along. I’ve learned more about myself as a human being in this show and about all of us as human beings in the show. Also, it’s a culmination of everything that has come before it, so you know, it embodies all of the things that you see.
What general advice would you give to students interested in pursuing their career in theater and the performing arts?
The thing I’d say to anybody interested in pursuing anything: there are no rules, your power and ability are limitless, and keep going.
With Hamilton, did you know that you wanted to play Burr, or did they offer that role to you?
I didn’t want to be Burr … I wasn’t interested in doing the show because it’d been done. I don’t tend to replace. My goal is almost always to create something new but this is a unique show, and a unique opportunity and it came on at kind of the right time. The more they talked to me about it, and the more I thought about it, the more excited I did get about the process of joining the show. I am happy; it’s going to be a new experience.
What keeps you excited about being in theater? Is it that the audience has you perform? Is it just the idea of taking on the role of a new character? What motivates you or drives you?
Creating. Creation is what drives me. The reason we are here on this planet is to connect more deeply with ourselves and with each other, and art, and performance, and theater I think is a tool that I’ve come here with to make use of. Creating stories in this way, particularly … In art in general, particularly in live theater, it is a highly communicative, community experience. We get to share something special in that moment of time and that room with one another … And we leave transformed, and that is the important to evolve, to transform, to emote, and to connect with one another.
Since a lot of the people who will be reading this are incoming students, like this is their first time in New York, some have never seen a Broadway show. Do you have any advice for them like for shows they should, or general ideas and tips about what the magic behind Broadway is, in a sense?
The magic behind Broadway is that the people on stage create something from nothing. It’s creating magic, and it helps inspire you to create something from what you have. New York is a cultural bastion unlike any other. So see everything you can, do everything you can. Big, small, do it all.
As you prepare for Hamilton, what’s your favorite song so far, whether it’s one you’ll be singing, or one some other character will be singing?
My favorite track in Hamilton is Guns and Ships but my favorite song to sing in that obviously is Wait for It.
Can I ask why Wait for It is going to be your favorite one to sing?
I think because I’m exploring the detail of the song but the thing that it sticks out for me is the chorus. Not a love, nor death, nor life, you know. It says,
Life doesn’t discriminate
between the sinners and the saints
it takes and it takes and it takes
and we keep loving anyway
we laugh and we cry and we break and we make our mistakes
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive
While everyone who loves me has died
and I’m willing to wait for it.
So minus the coda at the end, it’s that element of that’s true. Life is that, as is love, as is death, and they are all phases of the same thing, and they do not discriminate according to who you are.
Whether you are good or bad, it’s going to take something but you have to keep giving to it. It’s kind of a mini-encapsulated message about the circle of life, and what living is about. It’s a song with no resolution. He doesn’t figure anything out by the e`d of it. He starts affirming something, and then he starts questioning it, but then he finds himself left with a question in the end of it. It’s interesting piece but it’s one that’s resonated with me.
Brandon will begin performances as Aaron Burr in Hamilton: An American Musical starting in August 2016. For tickets to the show’s New York production, visit the show’s Broadway site.
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