Artistic Director Joseph Ritsch's production of the multi-playwright The Antigone Project: A Play in 5 Parts just opened at Rep Stage and plays through March 6. In this week's Take Ten, he shares the onstage experiences that prepped him for his transition to stage director.
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
When I was in the eighth grade my aunt took me to see my first Broadway show, Cats. Now as adults, say what you want about Cats, but to a child who was at his first Broadway show is was magical, truly magical. I knew in that moment it was what I wanted to do with my life.
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
In the 9th grade, I played The Mayor of Munchkinland in my church summer youth group’s theatre production of the Wizard of Oz. Although I was a quite upset not to be cast as the Scarecrow, I did get to go to a beauty salon every day before the show and have my hair styled in finger waves. The actress playing Dorothy had to go as well to get a brown rinse put in her hair and pigtail extensions. We had a BLAST reading trashy magazines side by side under those old-school hair dryers.
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
This is a tough one, so difficult to single out a favorite. A few that come to mind, Angels in America, Bent, Spring Awakening, The Elephant Man, Marat Sade, The Maids. In regard to newer works I am very much drawn to the plays of Katoi Hall, Adam Rapp, Colman Domingo and Jordon Harrison.
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
I have been very lucky to somehow manage day jobs/support jobs that had some level of creativity involved in them, even if not directly related to the theatre. In undergrad I worked as “Bingo” the clown at the Ground Round restaurant…and let me tell you, a clown’s life is not an easy one.
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
This is not so much embarrassing as it was more of an “actor’s nightmare” moment. I was playing Dr. Frank-N-Futer in a production of Rocky Horror and one of my 4 inch platform heels broke on my first entrance. It was several scenes before I could get offstage to change boots. Luckily I did not break an ankle or my neck. And there was some comfort seeing the ASM sweating bullets just offstage in the wings with a new pair of boots ready to go.
6) What are you enjoying most about working on The Antigone Project?
To be able to work with the text of five award winning playwrights is such a gift. The way these five plays speak to each other and the source material is just astonishing. It’s also amazing how the source material feels so relevant and current. And I am blessed with a stunning cast and creative team.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
Jean Genet for sure. I am fascinated with his life and work. What he was exploring in his novels and plays in regard to gender politics in his time is so interesting to me. And his aesthetic theatrically was so ahead of its time in many ways.
8) What is your dream role/job?
I hope this doesn’t sound cliché, but I love what I am doing now as an Artistic Director. One of the reasons I transitioned from acting to directing was that I was really drawn to the “big picture” in directing. Getting inside the heads of each character, collaborating with the design team, working side by side with stage management, etc. was very appealing to me. As an AD there is all of that and even a bigger picture of crafting a vison for the theatre, planning a season, growing audiences, and growing the profile of the theatre. All of those things combined creates such a wonderfully rewarding challenge and makes it quite the dream job.
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
I would love to go back in time to see the premiere 1947 Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. To see Jessica Tandy, Karl Malden, Marlon Brando, and Kim Hunter in those roles would be a masterclass, along with witnessing Elia Kazan’s direction.
10) What advice would you give to a graduating MFA student in theatre?
This business is really about relationships. I would say foster good relationships, be the type of theatre artist others want to have in the room. Balance hunger with professionalism. Work hard, show up on time and have a great sense of humor. I am constantly surprised how small the theatre world is (not just regionally but globally as well), and reputations proceed you all the time. Talent is subjective, professionalism is not.
JOSEPH W. RITSCH is Rep Stage's Co-Producing Artistic Director. In addition to the Rep Stage productions of Venus in Fur, Sunset Baby, Technicolor Life, Antigone Project: A Play in 5 Parts, Joseph has recently directed OLIVER! (Adventure Theatre MTC at Round House Theatre) and The Understudy (Everyman Theatre). He holds an MFA in theatre from Towson University, a BA in Theater & Dance from The School of Performing Arts at The University of Maine, and completed his initial graduate studies in the acting track at the Professional Program at Playwrights Horizons in New York City. He has worked as a principal ensemble member with Jane Comfort and Company, one of the industry's premiere movement theatre ensembles, where he received critical acclaim for his work in both the Village Voice and the New York Times for his multiple roles in S/He and for the title role of Macbeth in Cliff Notes Macbeth, and toured nationally and in Europe. As a founding member and former Associate Artistic Director of Baltimore's Iron Crow Theatre, his work includes his original play about the Jeffrey Dahmer murders, Apartment 213. The production was named by Baltimore City Paper as one of the "Top 10 productions" of the Baltimore 2010-2011 Professional Theatre Season. The project was developed at the prestigious WordBRIDGE Playwrights Lab June 2010. A critically successful remounting of Apartment 213 opened Iron Crow's 2013-2014 Season this September/October. As a director with the company, Joseph garnished attention with Iron Crow's production of Love and Human Remains which J. Wynn Rousuck, of WYPR, chose as one her "top 10" favorites of the Baltimore season. His work as a Director/Associate Director/Choreographer has also been seen in Baltimore at Center Stage, The Baltimore Theatre Project, Towson University, and Carver School for the Arts & Technology, and Roundhouse Theatre. Upcoming: Pride & Prejudice (Catholic University of America).