The next stage
If you passed Stephanie Richardson on the street, you might never picture this sweet, 5-foot-2-inch blonde as a biker chick or an alcoholic, sex-crazed psychotherapist. But these are two of many roles the actor has played. She can easily transform herself into someone else. In the world of theater, this is a very good thing.
Richardson, a Tennessee native with no detectable accent, is the artistic director of the new TheatreWorks of Northern Nevada, which offers acting classes for children, teens and adults. The classes culminate in stage productions at the McKinley Arts & Culture Center.
Richardson, 38, moved to Reno five years ago after working in theater and television in New York and Los Angeles for 10 years. She immediately got involved in the local theater scene, appearing in productions by the Nevada Shakespeare Company, Brüka Theatre and the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. Her most notable local starring role was as Bilbo Baggins in Brüka’s production of The Hobbit. Her diligence and talent have been recognized this year by the Sierra Arts Foundation, which awarded her a Performing Artist Grant.
Richardson’s theater roots began to grow when she was a sophomore in high school. She later studied at the prestigious and extremely competitive North Carolina School of the Arts (where actors were regularly cut from the program), but it was her passionate and unorthodox high- school theater teacher who lit the dramatic fire.
“She scared me so much, I had to rehearse,” Richardson says, laughing while remembering the woman who was to become her mentor.
When displeased, the teacher would throw chairs and desks around the classroom. In order to avoid the tantrums, Richardson constantly rehearsed. However, it wasn’t simply fear that motivated the budding actress. She respected the woman who took her under her wing and methodically erased Richardson’s Southern accent. Richardson was in awe of a teacher who gave up her weeknights and weekends for rehearsals, designing costumes and sets and taking students to drama tournaments.
Richardson has a decidedly different temperament as a teacher, but her level of passion is commensurate with her high-school teacher’s. Richardson has been teaching drama and directing plays locally for a few years, and her congenial but focused manner has won over many acting students as she’s walked them through scene study, monologues, improvisation, voice projection and stage presence.
Her eventual goal is to open her own full-scale theater company.
“Hopefully, with the momentum from the theater school, I will be able to establish a theater company which will produce more new works dealing with current issues as well as classic theatre.”
One thing Richardson wants to do is to offer actors a percentage of box-office sales. That may be no easy task, but she has a three-tier plan to support the goal: having actors directly involved in ticket sales, supplementing productions with income from the theater classes and applying for grants. Actors won’t likely go home rich, but Richardson is of the opinion that offering actors anything is better than paying them nothing.
She’s also interested in bringing new people onto the stage.
“There are some really talented actors in Reno,” she says. “But I see the same people getting the lead roles all the time, and there is a good-sized pool of actors in this community. I’d like to see more of them get a shot, which would only help the growth of the local acting community.”