Richie Wilcox returns to Dalhousie University, not as a student, but to direct the theatre department’s production of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde (1900). An actor, singer and director, Wilcox is the co-founder of Angels & Heroes theatre company and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theatre (York University). AE recently spoke to the young thespian about this week’s performance.
AE: What will audience members experience when they watch La Ronde?
RW: La Ronde features a daisy chain of sexual encounters. The first scene has person A and person B talking and having sex and talking some more. The next scene features person B and person C talking and having sex and talking some more. The third scene features person C and so on and so forth. The audience gets to be transported into a Parisian brothel where the workers are putting on this play that deals with love and the tumultuous relationships that come with it. With ten scenes that revolve around intimate relationships with ten different characters, the play is fast paced and offers a voyeuristic view into these interactions. This play has love affairs, marriages, one night stands ranging from heterosexual to homosexual to bisexual orientations. All in all, it's a pretty funny and sexy play - two things I expect an audience will greatly appreciate.
AE: Is this your first time directing a play for Dal Theatre? What is it like directing at one of your alma maters?
RW: It IS my first time directing a play for Dal and, yes, my first time directing for one of my alma maters. Dalhousie has been trying to get me to come back to direct since 2006 but the timing was always off because of other projects and such that I had on the go. I've been eager to get back to Dalhousie because it really did give me such a great foundation of knowledge and experience. After a decade out of Dal, it seems the timing is great! I've been rehearsing in Studio One all month and I can't help but have flashbacks to my directing class with David Overton (now retired). Dr. O's class opened my eyes to directing and set me on a path. I owe a lot to professors such as David, Roberta Barker and Jure Gantar. When I was in my final year (ten years ago) at Dal, I was assistant director under guest director Marcia Kash. Everything has come full circle as I am now the guest director and have a student assistant director on my team. I told Marcia this past week that I was thinking a lot about that show and what I learned from her. I can only hope that I'm being as great a mentor as she was for me.
AE: Is the cast made up entirely of students? Do you see yourself as a mentor/teacher in addition to being a director?
RW: The majority of the cast of La Ronde is made up of the third year acting students of the Dalhousie Theatre program with one fourth year acting student rounding out the ensemble. My role as director definitely encompasses a mentor/teacher role as well. Throughout the audition process and the rehearsals I'm trying to help prepare them for what it's like as a professional actor out in the real world. I'm also trying to enhance and extend the training they get from the program and encourage them to push themselves further to reach their full potential. I've been teaching theatre courses at York University for the past four years so this mentorship role is second nature to me. I would say being a director involves the mentorship role in different ways for every job. After all, you are 'guiding' the production and the team within it.
AE: What drew you to this play and how does it compare to other plays you've directed?
RW: The playwright of La Ronde, Arthur Schnitzler, said "I write about love and death because what else is there?" If I look at all the plays I've directed I would say the majority of them have to do with love and death in very overt ways most of the time. Funnily enough the last play I directed before this was Pains of Youth which was written shortly after La Ronde and also deals with very sexual beings in Vienna, just like La Ronde. This is my year of doing turn of the century sexy Viennese plays I guess. I've been drawn to La Ronde ever since I read it back in my undergrad days at Dalhousie. This play created a huge scandal in the early 1900s because of how bluntly and frankly it dealt with sex. Schnitzler was a real talent as the script stands up to this day. (Interesting tidbit: Nicole Kidman did a version of La Ronde on Broadway titled The Blue Room in the early 2000s). The relationships we have are pretty much the same as they were back then. There's heartache, there's love, there's lust, there's rejection and everything else. This play is so popular because it's so contemporary. People are always falling in and out of love. People are always having sex for a variety of reasons. And we always want to hear about it. La Ronde taps into all of those indiscretions and intimacies and puts it onstage for us.
AE: What has been one of the highlights of your singing/acting/directing career?
RW: For the past five years Angels & Heroes has put on a Tribute concert for Halifax Pride week. We've done the music of Rufus Wainwright, Queen, Elton John, David Bowie and Annie Lennox featuring some of the best Halifax musicians. This night is always one of the best nights of the year for me. A room full of amazing talent singing amazing songs by celebrated musicians who have made a stand for queer people...it all ends up being quite powerful. This night continues to be a highlight for me.
AE: What have been your favourite acting and directing roles?
RW: I don't know if I can narrow it down to one favourite role and play because most of the work I've done I hold very close to me. I can offer up some highlights though. I directed a crazy play for Angels & Heroes around 2003 called The Pitchfork Disney by Philip Ridley. This play featured dark nightmarish imagery throughout it and, in my mind, some of the best acting seen in Halifax at that point. I was fortunate to have an amazing cast who really dove head first into the gritty material. This play that features a guy in a gimp mask singing, a circus entertainer eating cockroaches, and a guy getting off by having his finger sucked was pretty out there and was definitely a love/hate type of show. I of course loved every minute of it. As for acting, one of the highlights of my career so far has been playing Valene in The Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh for Angels & Heroes. This dark Irish comedy has the same type of flavour as Cape Breton humour so it was very easy for me to slip into character and have fun with it. McDonagh is one of my favourite playwrights (he also wrote the film In Bruges) and I would jump at the chance to do this show again. On a completely different wavelength, playing Paul in A Chorus Line for Texas State University was also really rewarding as it required me to really push myself as a dancer and had me telling a pretty emotional 'coming out' story onstage. As I said, that's only a few of the memorable roles and plays that come to mind.
AE: Any last words to encourage patrons to come see La Ronde?
RW: Besides the great script, there are two major reasons not to miss this show. Firstly, the design team for this show rocks. Dalhousie has a new set and costume design team with John Dinning and John Pennoyer at the helm. I'm as giddy as a kid in a candy store thinking about how snazzy and sexy this set and the people on it are going to be! Also, my husband Aaron Collier (part of the band Scientists of Sound) is doing the sound design and it is fantastic music inspired by the French electro scene. It really keeps the play driving and gives it a sensual tone. The other reason not to miss this show is the cast itself. This is the first time most of these students get to be seen on the Dal stage. These are young, eager and talented actors who are pushing themselves in a risky daring piece. I know I'm excited to see all these elements come together!