Studio Visit appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with Deb Richardson, an actress, costume designer and now a director in local theater groups. artist Maria Lux. In the Oct. 14 newspaper, we'll have a visit with artist Nina Paley.
Q: You're acting in "Steel Magnolias" at Parkland College and will direct "Independence" here at the Station Theatre. Have you been really busy?
A: We had auditions Sept. 22 for "Independence" in the middle of rehearsals for "Steel Magnolias." It's been a little bit crazy.
Q: When does the Lee Blessing play start here and have you started rehearsals yet?
A: "Steel Magnolias" closed (Oct. 7), and we start(ed) rehearsing "Independence" on Tuesday.
Q: How long have you been involved in theater?
A: About 20 years. I started helping my daughters by being on the costume crew for some of the things they were doing with the Villa Grove Community Theater. I did a lot of acting down there, too. It's now actually the Actors' Rural Theatre Company, which I named because I was on the board of directors at the time. We were in a theater in Villa Grove, and then we moved to a little church in Tuscola. So we had to give it a name that was appropriate for the location.
Q: How did you segue into acting?
A: Well, it's funny. My daughters (Emily and Elaine Richardson) had done several shows. Then we were doing "Annie" in 1995 for the Villa Grove Community Theater and they talked me into auditioning. I got called back for Miss Hannigan, but I ended up being Frances Perkins.
Then my kids and I were involved in the Creative Dramatics Workshop in Sidney. I've done a few things for the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company and a couple of things at Parkland. My favorite thing at Parkland was doing the costumes for "To Kill a Mockingbird." Randi Hard directed and wanted the costumes to be in sepia tones.
My first gig at the Station was in 2006. They were doing "The Mikado" and asked me to design costumes. That was my first costume gig in C-U. I had a very tiny budget and many kimonos. I've been mainly working at the Station since then. I've been on the board of directors, and I average seven or eight shows a year here in C-U.
Q: Acting or costuming?
A: It's both. Sometimes with different theater groups, but most of my work is here at the Station.
Q: Will "Independence" be your first directing job here?
A: Yes — anywhere. It's something I wanted to try for a very long time, so I'm pretty excited about it. I've done every aspect of theater. I study it and dissect it, so I thought, "Maybe I can do this." I think they were a little leery of having somebody direct with no directing experience. But I've done assistant directing a couple of times and helped with casting, so they said, "OK. We'll give it a try."
Q: Did you have any theater experience in high school?
A: No, I actually was really shy when I was in high school. I was a major introvert. I actually didn't know theater was something you could do. My sister (Jodi Prosser) has been involved in theater at some level since she was in third grade. I've loved theater ever since. We've gone to every one of her shows and supported her. I'm not just one who loves to create — I love to attend shows, too.
Q: What characters have you played that you feel are the most like you or that you liked the best?
A: The kind of roles I like the most are sort of dark characters. I played Mrs. Medlock in "Secret Garden," and I loved that. I'd say probably the thing that was closest to my personality was Marty in "Circle Mirror Transformation" here. That character ran a sort of park district program, a theater class. And one of my favorite roles was Avis in "A Body of Water," and that was a Lee Blessing play, too.
Q: Do you have a day job?
A: I do. I'm an administrative aide in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois.