Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp



Artist of the Week – Robert Richmond

Posted 11/11/2011 4:50:00 AM

One thing you might not think about when you visit South Carolina is the fact that our college campuses hide some of the nation’s most talented artists – in plain sight.

One of those artists is Robert Richmond, a theater and film director whose work has been seen around the world at theaters like the La Jolla Playhouse, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.

He came to the United States from the UK as the Associate Artistic Director of the well-known Aquila Theatre Company. His production of Henry VIII at the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C. earned 10 Helen Hayes Award nominations, and his directing was even seen at a private performance in the White House.

Richmond now teaches as the Head of Undergraduate Performance at the University of South Carolina. He took some time out from rehearsing his next play, Romeo and Juliet, to answer a few questions.

Q: You grew up and began your career in the UK - what brought you to South Carolina?
It all started here, as a matter of fact. Aquila was looking for a university to build and rehearse a tour of Julius Caesar in 1998, and USC gave us the use of their shops and some of the instructors designed the show. It was such a success that the following August we came back again and played the Koger Center before we went out on the road for nine months. It was this summer that I met Dionne, my wife, who had enrolled into the MAT program. And so it all began.

Q: You began your career as an actor - when and how did you make the switch to directing?
I was a bossy actor who told everyone how to play things to make myself look good! Or that is what I have been told. In reality I remember being frustrated by the lack of opportunities as an actor and decided with a friend to direct Miss Julie in a room above a pub in Battersea, London. I found it to be a profound and satisfying experience and have never looked back. I flirted one more time with acting, in order to be part of a tour that went to Europe, but found I have stage fright.

Q: What's your inspiration for Romeo and Juliet?
Teenage suicide. When I was teaching at NYU two freshmen jumped off of the top floor inside the library on different occasions. I have been trying to understand that ever since. I am also interested in the movie of The Matrix combined with the idea that Romeo and Juliet are told their destiny at the beginning and spend the rest of the play trying to avoid their fate.

Q: You were the recipient of a S.C. Film Commission Grant as well. Tell me a little bit about the film, Dreadful Sorry. When and how will people be able to see the finished product?
Yes, in fact the same friend, Richard Willis, who suggested I direct Miss Julie is the leading role in Dreadful Sorry. The story tells of a 10-year-old girl who returns home after the Civil War to be reunited with her father. She meets a benevolent ghost who helps her solve the mysterious disappearance of her mother. It is a chilling ghost tale that is full of suspense and surprises. We hope be finished by the end of this year and in film festivals for 2012. There will be a premier at USC for everyone that was involved in the spring semester.

Q: What's your next project?
I am preparing to remount Henry VIII at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival this winter. I first directed it at the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C., last fall where it was nominated for 10 Helen Hayes Awards. The Artistic Director of ALS saw the show and invited me to do it again for their season. The show has to develop a little, grow in size to accommodate the new space, and the cast will be completely different - except for one.

Q: What is your favorite place in South Carolina?
Hilton Head Island. It is the most beautiful beach I know. I find much peace and relaxation when I am there and try to get there as often as possible.

Romeo and Juliet will perform Nov. 16-20 at 8 p.m. in the Lab Theatre at USC, located at 1400 Wheat St. in Columbia. Admission is $5 at the door. Click here for details.