Richard Heller is the Artistic Director of Theatre Convivio, the new community theater hosted by Ashland’s Bellview Grange. The first production of Theatre Convivio will be “The Fantasticks” to be produced this August. Richard and I sat down to talk at Noble Coffee in Ashland one sunny afternoon.
EH: What is the job of an artistic director?
RH: A good leader brings people in who can do a really good job and lets them do their work. As the sea is the ruler of a thousand streams, because it lies beneath them, the artistic director has to hold space for the community, be a consistent and calming presence, weave the various elements together, and work cohesively and collaboratively with others, being a guiding influence, never a dominating influence.
There is a hierarchical structure to theater. On the creative side, a play’s director has a vision about a certain work and wants to bring that to the stage. The artistic director of a company has to make the choices of plays so that they bring a consistent message about what the company is about.
As Artistic Director of Theatre Convivio, I want to choose projects that emphasize humanness, transformation and the actor-audience relationship. It means touching the hearts and souls of the actors and the audience so that everyone is transformed through the magic of theater. It’s a beautiful collaborative work.
EH: What is the significance of the name Theatre Convivio?
RH: Theatre Convivio came to me as an idea. I Googled it and found out that Theatre Convivio was actually a movement in Latin America that emphasizes the relationship between actor and audience as compared to other forms of media where there is no relationship. Theatre Convivio is about the pure here-and-now experience of theater. It can’t be recreated. That is the beauty of our art — that living moment. It emphasizes the immediacy of theater. Is it different from other theater? No. All good theater is Theatre Convivio, theater with life.
EH: How would you define great theater?
RH: What makes great theater is uniformity in presentation. The concept, the metaphors, the music, the acting, the story, the dramaturgy, stage management; everything supports a common vision that everybody understands, gets on board, and brings forth. Everything serves that.
EH: What qualities do you need to direct a play?
RH: An open mind and a willingness to hear what the playwright’s trying to say. For me as a director, I choose a vehicle that speaks to me as a human being because it is a great play in-and-of-itself. I don’t want to overlay a concept onto a great piece of work. I like to find a great play and bring out the flavor that the playwright wanted to bring to it. That, to me, is good direction — to tell the story. We’re not there to rewrite it or take the playwright’s work away from him, but rather to bring out what that person was trying to say, as well as to create a space for each character to excel, and for the actors to do their best. The best thing I can do as a director is to emphasize the relationships in the play. I like to work with my actors so that they can create history and create relationships. A good play is full of relationships and tells a story about real people in real time. Even an imaginary story such as “The Fantasticks” is a real heart-felt tale.