Our featured "Spotlight Series" alumni for the month of August '19 is Richard Frazier, a 2011 theatre education graduate.
"We're all teaching theatre"
A chat with Richard Frazier
By Jim Lynn
A theatre education degree from CSU may mean a fruitful, even award-winning, career teaching drama classes and producing high school plays. But Richard Frazier defines the discipline more broadly. We're all theatre educators in a sense, no matter what we're doing, he says. The 2011 CSU theatre education graduate spent seven years teaching at Northside High in Warner Robbins. But last year, he succeeded longtime Theatre Macon artistic director Jim Crisp, taking the helm of a program that lets him teach both young and established actors through nine productions a year. Frazier discussed his thoughts about his career so far and the importance of the CSU experience.
Richard, part of what's fascinating about theatre people are the things, often serendipitous, that lead them onto this path. How did you get interested in theatre, to begin with?
When I was in high school (Rockdale High, class of 2006), I was in the choir and they needed technical assistance on the upcoming production of West Side Story. The Directors put out an all-call for assistance and I decided to join to help out. I didn't know anything about the show at that point. The camaraderie both backstage and onstage kept me involved. I auditioned for my first production the following spring. The 1940s Radio Hour. I was cast in the role of Neal Tilden. It was my first speaking, singing, and dancing role. I went on to make a career of performing in high school. I also had the opportunity to play Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and the Beast in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. I knew I always wanted to be a teacher, but I never found a subject that was exciting to me. Theatre turned out to be that subject and I've been grateful ever since.
After high school, what led you to CSU's College of the Arts?
CSU was the only program in the state that offered Theatre Education in a four-year degree. I didn't know much about the school. I had a good friend who attended Columbus State for Theatre Education and loved it. I had the opportunity to meet theatre professor Brenda May Ito at the Georgia Thespian Conference (then in Clayton County) and instantly knew Columbus was my first and only choice.
So what did the CSU program do to prepare you for what you do now?
I really appreciated the overview of all aspects of theatre in the Theatre Ed program. We touched on everything while still having time to delve into the specifics of many topics. And the Theatre faculty at CSU is top-notch – I'm still in contact with each of them. They were not just professors and advisors; they were mentors and friends too.
What would you like to say to current CSU theatre students that you wish someone had told you?
Take your time. Enjoy the journey! CSU has so much to offer, and the program has grown incredibly since I was there. Don't feel like you have to rush through college just to get a four-year degree. The information you learn will carry you much farther than four years, so be sure to soak it all up while you're there.
What is the philosophy that guides you? What do you wake up in the mornings thinking about? Where did that philosophy come from?
I believe that people are and can be as great as you encourage them to be. My job is to put on high-quality theatre with non-professionals. I do not see community artists or amateur artists when people walk through our doors. I see people who are looking for the opportunity to further their skills, to try something new, and sometimes stepping outside of their comfort zones. My job is to push our performers, technicians, and patrons to do and see things they may have never thought of for themselves. People will always rise to the bar that you set, so I try to set the bar high. You know, Mary Poppins once said that 'If you reach for the stars, all you get are the stars. If you reach for the heavens, you get the stars thrown in.'
What is the mission, or purpose, behind your work?
My mission is to educate theatre artists, both current and future ones, and to find unique ways to encourage the development of entertaining and thought-provoking theatre. And also to build a safe and inclusive environment for diverse groups of people to learn and create freely.
What is most important about the post-graduation job search?
Not just going to interviews, but really looking into long-term goals in the job. Also, make sure to ask questions. You should be interviewing them, just as much as they should be interviewing you. Do your research. Figure out what their mission and vision statements are. Look into their beliefs and make informed decisions about whether or not that job or location is a good fit for you.
Did you consider an MFA?
I have. I have not started one, but it's definitely something I've looked into.
Do you feel your current work lets you make use of your creative instincts? How?
Absolutely. As an artistic director, working creatively and using the degree I earned from Columbus State is all I do! I'm designing, directing, choreographing. But I'm also running a business, which actually was a big part of our theatre education training.
What's been your favorite, or most memorable, or most meaningful project so far?
I think my most memorable and meaningful project was working as the choreographer and assistant director of the Georgia Thespians All-State show Memphis. The way these students from all over the state came together to tell a story of love, acceptance, and empathy in a world that needs it now more than ever was just awe-inspiring. These students performed the show for more than 5,000 students here in Georgia, and then they went to the International Thespian Festival in Nebraska to perform for 5,500 other students from all over the country and world. Watching them come off stage after that production, hugging each other and crying and knowing that they had just done something so important, was absolutely a favorite moment for me.
What is your current or most recent project?
We just closed our performance of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, and we're now working on our Youth Actor's production of High School Musical.
What is the one thing that's surprised you about theatre education?
Most people think theatre education is specific to K-12 education. I've learned that is absolutely false. Theatre education is the art of educating anyone interested or willing to learn about theatre. I am a theatre educator now just as much as I was when I was in the classroom. The only difference is the setting. Theatre basics are fundamental across the board. I find myself educating and teaching adults the ins and outs of performing and how to develop their skills. Many of the adults I work with do not have any formal theatre training, so it's my job to educate them to get the most out of them as performers, to pull out what they may not even see in themselves. That is what so many people, professors, mentors did for me.
Fascinating way to think about it. But how difficult was the transition from education to theatre management?
There was definitely a change. From seeing hundreds of students each day, to 30 or 40 for about three hours is a definite shift. The great thing is, thanks to Columbus State and the many resources they provided me, the transition has gone smoothly. The theatre is grossing (revenue) on shows like never before, season memberships are up, shows are selling out. It's just a great time to be a Cougar and a great time to be the artistic director of Theatre Macon.