For Richard Ericson, the new artistic producer at Kingston’s Courthouse Center for the Arts, taking on his new role isn’t just about creating theater, it’s about being a part of the community.
Though Ericson isn’t originally from the Ocean State, he has called it home for 22 years.
“I’ve never been a part of the community,” he said, “And I wanted to be.”
That’s why, when the opportunity came his way to take over as the theater’s artistic producer, Ericson ran with it.
Born in Tokyo, to parents in the diplomatic corps, Ericson spent his childhood in London, Japan and Korea.
At the age of 18, Ericson ventured to the U.S. for his senior year of high school.
He studied at a public school in Rockville, Maryland, where he said things were very different from what he was used to.
Though Ericson felt underwhelmed by his experience in Rockville, he did find his drama program to be exceptional.
“I had a great drama teacher named Sarah Best,” he said.
Ericson took part in the school plays, and was cast as John Proctor in “The Crucible.” His performance caught Best’s attention.
“She said, 'You need to go to Carnegie Mellon,’” said Ericson, “And I said, ‘What’s that?’”
Best explained that Carnegie Mellon University was one of the nation’s top schools for the performing arts. Out of the thousands that applied for a spot in the prestigious program, only 50 were accepted each year.
Ericson wasn't confident he'd get in, but obliged his drama teacher and headed to the auditions. A few months, later, he got his acceptance letter.
While at Carnegie Mellon, Edith Skinner, a voice and speech teacher, noticed Ericson's gift for speech, and asked him to take on some jobs for her outside of the university. Through these gigs, Ericson made some major connections, and found himself on the Hollywood set of films like “Orphans” with director Alan J. Pakula.
But though Hollywood was lucrative, Ericson's heart was with the theater. In his early twenties, Ericson headed to Pittsburgh with some friends and began directing.
“Everyone thought I would be a terrific actor, but I never felt it in my skin. I felt uncomfortable on stage,” he said.
Ericson found directing to more to his liking. As he got more credits under his belt, and even managed to make the children's book “The Wind in the Willows” into a Broadway musical, Ericson's connections grew.
Soon a friend approached him with an opportunity that would change Ericson's life forever, but he didn't know it at the time. She said her family was tied to a theater in Rhode Island, a barn near the beach, and asked if Ericson would be interested in running it.
At first, Ericson was hesitant, but he took a risk and headed to Theatre by the Sea in Matunuk. It was there that Ericson stood at the helm for 10 years, developing FourQuest Productions, a company that put on many musicals and even took some of them on tour.
“The New York Times did a story,” he said, “They wondered how this little theater in Rhode Island could do all this.”
But after a while, Ericson got burnt out, and so he left Theatre by the Sea.
That's when he went back to school to learn how to shoot and edit video. He and his partner have a landscape and gardening business and accompanying website that Ericson has helped to build. He splits his time between his home in Hopkinton and New York City, and stays active in the theatrical and film industries.
Despite his involvement as a producer, the offer to run Courthouse Center for the Arts was an unanticipated one.
“I didn't know anything was going on here,” laughed Ericson, who said he was unaware that the company had been producing a dozen musical per year for the last several years.
After Russell Maitland, the former artistic director at Courthouse, stepped down earlier this year, the board began their search for a new person to run the center. A board member contacted Ericson.
“She called and said 'Would you be interested in having your own theater in Rhode Island?'” he said, “So I said OK, I'll come talk to them.”
When Ericson met the board and learned more about Courthouse; his interest was piqued. They offered him a job as an interim artistic producer, but Ericson declined the “interim” title.
“I want to make it work,” he said, and he plans to stay with Courthouse until he achieves that goal.
His first project at Courthouse is what he's billing as a “Best of Rhode Island” showcase version of the Broadway musical “Pippin.”
The show will showcase some of the people he met at Theatre by the Sea; favorites like Dante Sciarra and Lennie Watts, who starred in Theatre by the Sea's “The Drowsy Chaperone” this summer. The show also features professional actors from around the state, URI and RIC students, and a young, up-and-coming performer from La Salle, Colin Whitney, as the show's title character.
Ericson said he chose to put on “Pippin” because of the storyline and beautiful score.
“Pippin” follows a young man on a journey to find the ultimate satisfaction in life. He often finds himself torn between the pull of a fantastical world and a normal existence.
“It’s about a choice we all have to make,” he said, “That glittering bauble or a real life. It’s a big question.”
It’s a play within a play, and Ericson said it hones in on the choice actors have to make between their lives on the stage and their lives outside the theater.
“It’s the best cast I’ve ever seen in Rhode Island,” he said, “[The show] will make you laugh and then make you cry.”
“Pippin” is set to be revived on Broadway during the 2012-13 season, which is another reason Ericson wanted to bring the show to Rhode Island.
“Look at what we have in Rhode Island,” he said, “We can’t get any better.”
“Pippin” will have two performances, Oct. 29 at 8 p.m. and 30 at 2 p.m. The performance on the 29 will be preceded by a cocktail reception at 6:30 p.m., and followed by champagne and petit fours with the cast. Tickets to the Oct. 29 show are $75 (all inclusive); and $25 or $15 for the 30 matinee. More ticketing and show information available at www.courthousearts.org.