FESTIVAL THEATRE: So first of all, you've now been the Executive Artistic Director for about 8 months now - how would you describe your experience so far in one word?
JASON RICHARDS: (Laughs.) One word? If it's just one word... I think the best word that really encapsulates [my time here] is "adventurous." To me, that's positive. If you say "busy," that can be like...is that good or bad. But adventurous encapsulates busy but also "fun" and "see-what's-next."
FT: Nice. So you have worked as an actor, a director, playwright, teacher, administrator... Which do you sort of see yourself as first? Can you speak a little to your director philosophy?
JR: Originally I saw myself as an actor, but now I really do consider myself a theatre artist - sort of encompassing all those things. My directing journey started in undergrad when I got a degree in Directing and Design from Baylor University in Waco Texas. I did [a] directing [degree] over acting really just because I connected with those teachers better. The first thing I ever directed was a ten minute play that I'd written, it was an assignment in my directing class. Next I directed one third of the David Mamet play The Water Engine - I got to direct the final third, which I thought was pretty cool. Some years later, I directed the full show. As a director, I want to ask questions... more than make statements. Sometimes I ask a question trying to lead an actor to a certain point, but other times I ask a question that I don't know the answer to. The director creates a world that all these characters can exist in, you have designers who design the set, and lights and props and costume and all that creates a world that was started in the playwrights mind. I've really enjoyed this cast, it's been a collaborative effort. I like that as a director, that we are all telling this story together. We all have to bring our ideas to the table to get the most of the story and I feel like we've done that. It takes courage to collaborate.
FT: Your first full production as a director at Festival Theatre is set in Texas, where you are from. Was that intentional?
JR: No, it wasn't! (Laughs.)This play was already in place when I got here, the powers-at-be had already selected this play. It was a weird coincidence, it turned out to be a strength. I think I know this part of the country, I know these characters well. I grew up with them. I connect with Marley's complicated relationship with her past, her hometown, her former friends. The Jess and Marley friendship... When I was in high school, I had a lot of friends. Since then, about three of those were life long friends. Even though today we don't have a lot in common because our lives diverted, at any moment I can call them and say "do this" and they would do it. If my friend called and said "I needed a kidney," I'd give him a kidney. ... I also really like that personally some of my items have made it onto the stage, because I'm from Texas. A pair of boots, a belt buckle, the refrigerator magnets...
FT: So Josh Tobiessen is not a native Texan, if fact he only lived in the state a few years. As an Texan yourself, is there anything he got totally right, anything he got totally wrong?
JR: To his credit, he has created universal characters that are very relatable to anyone no matter where they are. But as a Texan... I grew up with all of those people. When I read the play, I knew who those characters were. That being said... Texas is BIG, Texas is almost five states in one. Where I grew up in East Texas and where these characters are from in West Texas... [Geographically] it's as if I grew up in Minneapolis, and these characters grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska - Texas is that big - like we'd be 600 miles apart. But something he really did get right is how important football is, that [in the play] this Spartan football team won the championship and how it shaped a certain time period in this town, and the young men's lives. How people don't want that time to fade. When I lived in Kilgore, TX, in 2001, they won the championship. There was a huge billboard erected and that billboard stayed up for years - is probably still up today. So that's, what, seventeen years?
FT: So there's nothing about being a Texan he got wrong? It's all flawless?
JR: Well...if you're going to twist my arm. I guess there is one thing... ONE thing... At the end of act one, Marley says her dad Walter "lost his car," but it would have been a truck. Walt would have NEVER had a car. No male from Texas would have a car. Or not most men. But a man like Walt? Never.
FT: (Laughs.) That's amazing! Okay, one more question. So what do you hope audiences take away from the show?
JR: I hope they have fun, cause it's a comedy. I hope they laugh and enjoy themselves. I hope they can see themselves in the characters and laugh at themselves. [Having an] opportunity to come together and laugh is important and healing.
Lone Star Spirits opens Friday, April 13 at 7:30 pm at the Franklin Square Black Box. Get tickets online or by calling the Festival Theatre Box Office at 715.483.3387.