Academic journal article African American Review

Lloyd Richards: Reminiscence of a Theatre Life and Beyond

Academic journal article African American Review

Lloyd Richards: Reminiscence of a Theatre Life and Beyond

Article excerpt

Lloyd Richards, who was born in Toronto, Canada, moved to Detroit, Michigan, with his family when he was four. He graduated from Wayne State University before moving to New York in 1947 to pursue an acting career. His commitment to the theatre is equal to his achievements as an actor, director, and educator. Mr. Richards is among a small coterie of influential and widely respected theatre figures of the twentieth century. After an extraordinary career that spans six decades, he will forever be associated with two preeminent African American dramatists, Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson. However, his contributions to new voices in the theatre deserve equal notice. Mr. Richards served as Dean of the Drama School at Yale University and as Artistic Director of Yale Repertory Theatre from 1979 to 1991; he also served as Artistic Director of the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theatre Center from 1968 to 1999. Among his numerous awards, prizes, and honorary degrees are a Tony Award in 1984 for his direction of August Wilson's Fences and the National Medal of the Arts in 1993. He was awarded the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (October 2002) for his efforts "in shaping modern theater and guiding some of today's leading voices to the stage." (1) I sat down with Mr. Richards, now 86, in his Manhattan brownstone for seven hour-long sessions, commencing in October 2002 and ending October 4, 2005, two days after August Wilson's death.

NGN: What have you been doing lately?

LR: Well, I get up every morning and check to see if I am all there. Once I have done that and got an affirmative response, I put my pants on, one leg at a time. I'm armored for the day. I choose to spend a certain amount of it teaching because I get a lot back from it. And I don't mean money. I mean what I get in terms of the students' responses. I mean to see their skills develop--because I do teach practice and skills. I now teach at Actor's Studio, Acting Company, Fordham University.

NGN: What was it like growing up in Detroit during the Depression?

LR: The Depression was not a great time to be around. What it meant was that you ate less and that you were hungrier than you wanted to be. You put cardboard inside your shoes when they got holes. I remember we would borrow coal from my uncle. You would borrow a few dollars from here and there. What you were doing was staying alive.

NGN: Your father died when you were nine. Your mother went blind when you were 13. How did these two catastrophes affect your life?

LR: My father's death introduced us to state support. In fact, we became wards of the state because we received money from Aid To Dependent Children. That made it possible for us to get along. My mother had to take in washing, and she had to go and work in houses to support five children. Her blindness was a very traumatic event.

NGN: What brought about the blindness?

LR: My mother was having trouble with her eyes, and she went to see an ophthalmologist who put some drops in her eyes. She screamed in pain, and she never saw well after that. She always believed her blindness was the result of what the ophthalmologist put in her eyes. I can't verify that, but that is what she thought. This meant that she had to be helped.

NGN: You just mentioned that there were five children. What career paths did your siblings take?

LR: When my father died, Allan, my older brother--like any young man at that time--felt that he was the head of the household. He got a job. My mother was determined that I would go to college. A lot of things were sacrificed towards that. My sister Joyce was next to me. My mother had committed to never letting her knees touch the ground. In other words, she would not scrub floors for anyone. Not even in our house. That was a man's job. Joyce did other things, such as washing and ironing the clothes. She went to college and became a stenographer. …

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