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Arena Stage’s “Right to be Forgotten” Star John Austin Talks About Not Judging a Book by Its Cover, Digitally.

Arena Stage’s “Right to be Forgotten” Star John Austin Talks About Not Judging a Book by Its Cover, Digitally.

As we watch the political news cycle churn out story after story about the use and misuse of the modern day twitter universe, it’s clear that the Internet and the people that siphon through it never forget, pulling up history and shoving it openly into the present. Sometimes it’s a good thing, especially in the city of Washington, D.C. where accountability is key to understanding the nature of a politician. But in Sharyn Rothstein’s new play, Right to be Forgotten which is getting its World Premiere this month at Arena Stage, Washington, D.C., the inability to forget past mistakes has a darker and more dangerous side.

Photo © Tony Powell. Arena Stage
John Austin. Photo © Tony Powell. Arena Stage’s Right to be Forgotten.

Within that compelling context and complex universe, a young man is haunted by a mistake made when he was seventeen years young online a decade ago. Desperate for a normal life, he goes to extraordinary lengths to erase his indiscretion. But freedom of information is big business, and the tech companies aren’t going down without a fight. Written as a striking allegory about privacy, social media and human forgiveness in the age of the internet, the play attempts to pose a series of profound questions. Rothstein (By the Water, USA Network’s “Suits”) intuitively wonders, “What happens when our humanity clashes with our technology?” And “who in the end controls memory on the internet?”

Directed by Deputy Artistic Director Seema Sueko, this riveting new drama about one man’s fierce battle to reclaim his right to privacy, marks the return of actor John Austin (Arena’s Kleptocracy), alongside side Guadalupe Campos (Arena’s Native Gardens), to Arena Stage. Frontmezzjunkies was given the chance to pose a few questions of his own  to Austin about his experience within and his connection to the powerful play that is filled to the brim with secrets, lies and political backstabbing. Here’s how he responded:

Ross: Good to meet you John. Can you tell me a little about what intrigued you about this show? And how you came to be involved?

John: Hi Ross, thanks for reaching out. I remember preparing for Right to Be Forgotten auditions back in March. The first time I read the script… even on my computer screen, the play produced the most visceral reaction I have had to reading a script—ever, in my life. By page 5, a lovely first date taking place in the play takes an unexpected turn. The shift that takes place locked me in for the rest of show. I imagine audiences might experience a similar sensation. This play grips and does not let go.

Ross: How is it to be playing this role? To inhabit this character on stage? How does it speak to you?

John: Playing the role of Derril Lark is the greatest undertaking of my career thus far. That visceral reaction I had at first read remains. It calls me to the role and to the story. Some days, though, it makes me want to look away from the content. Yet my job, my responsibility is to keep looking, examining, and discovering anew. In that way, a strong connection to the material presents a challenge and opportunity. Ultimately, I trust it to guide me as I develop relationships with the other characters in the play, and the other talented collaborators with whom I get to bring this story to life.

Ross: What’s been the most challenging part of this process for you?

John: Not looking away.

Ross: The most rewarding?

John: Not looking away.

Ross: What do you want the audience to get from this show and from your character?

John: Appearances aren’t what they seem, especially in the digital age. What does it mean to truly know a person, now? How does Internet facilitate that connection and, at the same time, obfuscate it? My parents taught me, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” So why do we judge a Facebook by its cover photo?

Right to be Forgotten runs October 11 – November 10, 2019 in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle, Arena Stage, Washington, D.C.

For tickets and information, click here:


Right to be Forgotten. Written by Sharyn Rothstein. Directed by Seema Sueko. Starring John Austin, Guadalupe Campos, Melody Butiu, Rachel Felstein, Shubhangi Kuchibhotla, and Edward O’Blenis.

The creative team includes: Set Designer Paige Hathaway, Costume Designer Ivania Stack, Lighting Designer Adam Honoré, Sound Designer Andre Pluess, Projection Designer Shawn Duan, Dialect and Vocal Coach Zach Campion, Dramaturg Jocelyn Clarke, and Stage Manager Kurt Hall.

Arena Stage, Washington, D.C.

Out of Town

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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