Week 12 | Artist 12 of Created to Create 2017 | Drew Richardson, Dramatic Fool
“If you like Bill Irwin, You have to see Drew the Dramatic Fool. He's a world-class visual comedian."
— Charleston Gazette
“If Teller of Penn & Teller had ever become pregnant by Harpo Marx, Drew Richardson would be the one to arrive out of that strange scientific amalgamation.” — Film Threat
Drew Richardson is best known as the first person in the 21st Century to have new silent films shown at major motion pictures theaters. Besides being a silent film star in the wrong century, he is also a performer, director, and teacher of physical theatre influenced by the work of Michael Chekhov, Thomas Hanna (Somatics), and Jacques Lecoq—whom Drew studied with in Paris. Drew has been creating solo stage shows for the past thirty years, which he has performed from Austin to Austria. He has also toured with Squonk Opera and Daredevil Opera Company. Most recently, he performed at the International Comedy Art Festival in China. Drew has an MFA in Theatre Performance Pedagogy from Virginia Commonwealth University, and has taught, coached, directed and consulted for companies and schools including 500 Clown, Strawdog Theatre, Quest Wings Company, The (Very) Physical Comedy Institute, Ohio University, University of Michigan, and Point Park University.
Where were you born? Where do you live/work?
I was born in Athens, Ohio, a place I often return. As soon as I figure out where I live and work, I’m somewhere else.
What fuels your desire to act/create?
My friends joke that I should be followed around by a camera crew 24/7, reality-tv style, because my life is a series of entertaining (for them) mistakes and mishaps. My physical comedy shows are about as autobiographical as the most confessional solo performance pieces. My acting and creating are fueled by the despair, rejections, and fears that have followed me around my whole life. Kurt Vonnegut once said, “The biggest laughs are based on the biggest disappointments and the biggest fears.” My first solo show was about a clown suicide (with the rule that clowns can't die). Later I built a show about the Commedia character Arlecchino around never-ending rejections. My show, “Help! Help! I Know This Title is Long, But Somebody's Trying to Kill Me!” is about overcoming fears through acts of foolery. I have quite a stockpile of this fuel. But solar power seems to be the fuel of the future.
Tell us about your connection to Michael Chekhov’s work.
There was an issue of The Drama Review devoted to Michael Chekhov that came out in the early 80s. A teacher of mine showed it to me and said it was the closest he could get to reconciling Lecoq and Stanislavsky. I started reading and practicing exercises from To the Actor, and was hooked. Soon thereafter, I took an intensive workshop with Julie Portman, who I recently found out was a friend and student of Ted Pugh. She had us work on Eurythmy and Psychological Gestures as a way into physical characterization. For the next thirty years, this became my secret technique. Then I started the teacher training with MICHA two years ago, while continuing to experiment with and explore the use of imagery and movement in my work and my teaching.
How do you work with overcoming fear/doubt?
I know that when fear and doubt become anxiety and paralysis, it is probably (temporarily) too late for me. But fear and doubt are cues that I can still take action, move forward, and possibly avoid that flight or freeze response (or even the fight response). I stay curious to what I can discover, no matter how imperfectly, because there's always something of value I find, even when afraid and lacking confidence. And then I make art out of it all. I overcame a fear of heights ten years ago by sitting on a hotel balcony, relaxing completely, while continuing to think all the rational and irrational thoughts of falling, the balcony breaking, the railing collapsing, the building leaning, being pushed, etc. I realized I could still have all these worries and yet could relax deeply at the same time. Separating the two, dis-identifying my fears from my feelings worked as a sort of self-hypnosis, and I no longer felt that primitive panic. Somehow not trying to give up the thoughts and images allowed me the space to feel the sensations of calmness. When I remember to do this in other situations, I have similar (though not always as long lasting) results. I’m afraid I didn’t answer this very well. Ta da!
How do you heal from rejection?
I persist. Rejection seems to be the through-line in my personal life and professional career, but, like a fool, I keep going. In fact, one of my foolish prompts is to actively seek rejection. It's my vaccination for achieving what I have.
What are you inspired by NOW?
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Asking for help and offering help are two things that pay off enormously. Figuring out what is most important in your art, and then practicing that everyday with some way to get feedback. Your presence in the world makes a difference. You can still waste time, but not so much—it passes quickly. Of course, these are really things I'm telling myself now—eternal youth!
Who has had a powerful influence on your work?
I have many mentors, teachers, and colleagues who have influenced my work, many who are no longer with us, and some whom I never met. But the ones that stand out now are the ones I’ve been able to work with at different stages of my life. My first clown teacher, John Towsen hired me to teach at the (Very) Physical Comedy Institute a few years ago, where I also got to teach alongside and observe people who influenced me thirty years earlier, including Sigfrido Aguilar and Don Rieder. I first took a workshop with Avner Eisenberg in 1984, and he has continued to direct and advise me pedagogically over many years. Norman Taylor was one of my teachers at the Lecoq School, and I have taken workshops with him at the Movement Theatre Studio NYC, where he, too, shared pedagogical lessons with me. These links, as I have changed and they have changed, have proven invaluable, connecting different parts of myself from different times, and negating the idea that learning is something that only happens when you are young artist.
What is your next project or a recent project?
I’m writing two books right now: one entitled "How To Think Like a Fool: 60 Ways to Solve Problems Creatively," and one on Beckett and Clowning called "Acting Absurd," based on a class I teach.
How do you reward yourself for a job well done?
Cooking myself a nice meal—it's like a mini-performance I get to both make and enjoy.
What is your advice to self in pursuing the business side of work? Do you have advice for making/producing your own work?
Put yourself out in the world. Learn to say yes, then learn to say no. It's a job. How can you make it more fun? How can you get paid to work on your craft? Ask for help, offer help. People like to remind you it’s show BUSINESS. But sometimes you have to be reminded that it’s SHOW business—switch the emphasis now and then for balance and for sanity. Find ways to prototype your work, whether it's sneaking a section of your new show into your old show, or showing up with a comic monologue at a folk singers’ open mic. Get it in front of audiences, and keep improving. I started working on my last show by doing it in the parking lot before the beginning of someone else’s show (with permission). I once even workshopped bits and pieces of a theatre show as the hired performer at children's birthday parties.
What advice do you have for auditioning?
I started creating my own work so that I wouldn't have to audition—the casting couch is awkward, though. I then found that promo videos, showcases, and other marketing attempts are their own form of auditioning. If you’re not putting yourself out there in the world, nothing tends to happen. I ask, how can I audition in non-traditional ways?
10 things that make you happy are…
10. Deciding It helps me to have a menu of topics that I can draw from—if I get too specific, it’s easier to talk myself out of doing something. These also can be useful to spark my fuel when creating. Just asking how I can do one of these things gets me thinking, and that makes me happy.
In 2017, SUPER SPACE is serving as a vehicle to facilitate Created to Create Project.
CREATED TO CREATE
INTRODUCING ONE ARTIST PER WEEK, FOR 52 WEEKS IN 2017.
Beginning, January, 1st, 2017
ACTORS, ARTISTS, THEATRE MAKERS, FILM MAKERS, DESIGNERS, TEACHING ARTISTS, STUDENTS all chosen because they spend a part each day creating. Artists will be chosen in no particular order.
Introduce artists from different parts of the world. People who use different mediums and whose practice is at a different skill level. A thing they all have in common is unique sense of style and self-expression.