Janitors and Auteurs: How David Russo Cleaned Up

Russo directs Marshall Allman as an enchanted janitor. Photo by Bob Fink.

Director David Russo discouraged City Arts from honoring him in our 2008 story “Eight to Watch,” because his film was “sure to be a career ender.” He was wrong. His bizarre debut, The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle, won a standing ovation at Sundance, and in April, it became one of twelve movies available to forty million viewers via Tribeca Films, the new indie enterprise run by ex-Sundance director Geoffrey Gilmore.

“It took a great deal of imagination to see potential in a sincerely spiritual film about men birthing blue fish out their assholes,” says a grateful Russo. “Long after I’d accepted the death of the film, it somehow resurrected and seems to keep on going.”

Now Russo is directing the 3-D IMAX film Mind Blast, about the Blue Man Group invading a human brain to make it work better. “I wrote it after six months of researching modern neuroscience, numerous workshops with the Blue Man Group, and with a bit of assistance from San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb.” You can see it in 2011.

Russo directs Blue Man Group.

Russo is a former Seattle janitor, like the heroes of Dizzle. “Being a janitor is much like being an artist: you are removed enough from the rest of society to see it more clearly. I liken it to being the guy at the end of the parade who scoops up the shit – his (or her) perspective isn’t as colored by the spectacle and all its illusions. The main difference is an artist tries to talk back to the parade.”

“I knew a couple of janitors besides me that were secret artists. Many gave in to drugs, but I and a few others started GreenStage, an outdoor Shakespeare company.” Seventeen years after Russo played Puck, GreenStage is the state’s longest-running Shakespeare theatre.

Russo thinks success after failure is best. “That’s a particularly cool path because it’s exactly what great art is all about — continuing to survive and inspire over the long haul. Dizzle got what it got without any media hype; it was all word of mouth. People telling people. I’m most proud of that.” •

Read City Arts’ past article on David Russo in the magazine archive.