An Interview with Rick Wade
Jul 11, 2013 11:16PM ● Published by August Schwartz
How did you get into directing plays for Colonial Players and into theater, in general?
My interest in theater took off in junior high school, when it became clear to me that I would never make a sports team (I was an asthmatic as a child) or the glee club. I was involved in high school (graduated in 1964), but since I never went to college, community theater was the natural outlet. I moved to Annapolis in the late 1960s and there was Colonial Players and other groups! I acted in several shows locally and got involved with a group called the Tom Thumb Players, adult actors that produced original shows for children. I wrote the adaptations and lyrics for four musicals (music by Dick Gessner) for them beginning in about 1967 and directed all but one of them. I directed my first show at Colonial Players —A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—in 1970, yes, that long ago. I’ve directed 20 productions there, not including the several years of A Christmas Carol.
You’ve been in the Annapolis theater scene for a long time as a director. What sorts of tasks are involved with your job as a director for your productions?
The tasks and approach a director takes vary depending on the theater. I’ve had the good fortune to direct not only at Colonial Players, but for the (Anne Arundel) Community College, the Annapolis Opera, Summer Garden Theatre and Bay Theatre as well. The basics of directing play or musical—casting, staging, guiding rehearsals and coordinating the actors, designers, and technical staff around a unified vision of what we all want the audience to see and feel—never vary. What is so enriching is the achievement of that vision—blending so many different kinds of creativity and artistry and lifting it to a peak that leaves an audience with some memorable and special.
You have directed A Christmas Carol quite a few times. What draws you into directing that piece so many times?
I directed this musical version of A Christmas Carol for the first time in 1981 because I had adapted the story for the stage and written the lyrics to the songs with music by Dick Gessner. Because it was a new and completely untried work, no one else wanted to direct it. Very few thought the thing would be any more than a one-year experiment. Colonial Players wanted to produce it (there’s a good story about how the play actually came about)… so I directed it the first three or four years and returned periodically at their invitation. We were all astonished at the way audiences took it to their hearts. I return because the creation of the show and its long history (more than 30 years) in Annapolis is a very special part of my life and has come to mean something to the community.
How much has the Annapolis theater scene changed from when you began directing in the late 70s?
A lot. I directed my first play in 1970. There were two or three theatre groups in town, a handful of movie theatres, the symphony and a few other groups bringing live entertainment. And look at what we have now nearly half-a-dozen very good community theatres – CP, Summer Garden, Dignity Players, Pasadena Theatre Co; four theatres with professional credentials – Bay Theatre, Compass Rose, Infinity and the Annapolis Shakespeare Company – the Symphony, Opera, Ballet, Live Arts Maryland and many other musical groups and venues bringing top musical performers here and many other sources of entertainment. The kinds of plays and musicals being produced has changed, as well. Sure, the tried and true favorites pop up, but there are productions of very good plays that never made it to Broadway but have become very successful anyway.
Do you feel Annapolitans and county residents embrace theater to the degree that you wish?
Well, I wish younger audiences were more interested in live theater, but many people under 40 simply weren’t exposed to it growing up—television and the movies and videos were more their entertainment diet. But we have a core of theatergoers here that are wonderful —how else do so many companies stay afloat and thrive?
What was the most challenging play to direct and why?
That would be Peter Schaffer’s drama, Amadeus, at Colonial Players in 1987. It is a complex play in terms of the psychology of the two main characters—Mozart and Salieri —and a large cast on a small stage. Also, the sets, lighting, and music play an uncommonly important role—Mozart’s music weaves in and out—there are hundreds of light and sound cues. Perfect period costumes are essential and the set must transport the audience to a long past age. That production was blessed with the most experienced and dedicated team of set, lighting, costume, and makeup designers, set builders, and technicians I ever have worked with. The cast that play attracted was truly astonishing. It was a big undertaking for that small theater. All of us on the team had a strong shared sense of where we wanted to go. We were months in the preparation and literally transformed the inside of the theater to give it the feel of an 18th century setting.
Is there a single play that you would hang your director’s cap on (i.e. what’s your most proud accomplishment as a director)?
There can’t be one. Every play, comedy, drama, or musical, whether it’s an established successful play or something less, is an adventure. I think the plays that have stayed with me the longest are the ones that I thought brought something special to the audience emotionally—Amadeus, The Trip to Bountiful, Our Town, Amahl and the Night Visitors and others I mentioned earlier. You can’t hang your hat on one thing…it is never just your hat…it’s hats of everyone who comes together to create.
In order to thrive, succeed, and, perhaps, more importantly, motivate the younger generation to be more involved, what does Annapolis theater need most, in your opinion?
I think we need to find ways to connect with youth and young adults more directly, both attract them as an audience and interest them in participating. For too long, only the wonderful Children’s Theatre of Annapolis and The Talent Machine were focused on developing young performers and there wasn’t much attention to attracting younger people to the artistry of set, lighting, and costume design or to backstage work such as stage managing (which is a terrific training prelude to directing—better than acting). Compass Rose has taken up the mantle of bringing younger actors together with more experienced ones to create a learning and performing environment. It would also be good if the local theaters were less in their own silos and found creative ways to work together to bring productions to our audiences.