A Virtual Interview with Louise Richardson

Louise Richardson and Laura Guli will be the features for the 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) on Thursday, December 20, 2015  from 7:15 to 9:00 p.m.

Background

Louise Richardson is a native Austinite and a 1971 graduate of Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State) with a BA in History. She is a playwright, poet and novelist. Her comedy “Hamlet the Dane” received a full production at Capital City Playhouse in Austin in 1991. Her musical “Chanteuse” was produced at the Silver Spur Theater in Salado in 2011 and at the City Theatre and Daugherty Arts Center in Austin in 2012, with its music winning a 2011 ASCAPlus Award. The CD “Songs from Chanteuse” is available at BookWoman. She has had poems published in “Mermaid Tales” in 2013 and “Dog and Cat Tales” in 2014 through Tablerock Poets in Salado. Louise has hosted poetry and music open mics at Maria’s Taco Xpress and Recycled Reads in Austin and co-hosts the Star Coffee Open Mic in Round Rock. Her works can be found in books at Amazon.com, music at Reverbnation.com, and videos on her YouTube Snardfluk Channel.

The Interview

CH: What first drew you to writing? When did you begin to thin of yourself as a writer?

LR: Of course, like most people I wrote in school. Sometimes I got good grades for stories but once a teacher said I must have plagiarized the answer to an essay question because it was too good. Otherwise, I didn’t seem to impress anyone with my writing. But I did write from time to time, short stories, poems, and eventually an attempted novel, sporadically and mostly for my own amusement. I never really thought of myself as a writer, though.

CH: You have had broad experience as a writer, in poetry, prose, and theater. Describe your evolution as a writer. Do you have a primary identity as a writer (and if so, what would that be)?

LR: I wrote a few poems in college. I read one in a poetry class. The instructor didn’t think much of it and read some William Carlos Williams to show what real poetry is like. I still have and read a couple of those early poems and they seem to go over well enough. After college I went off to San Francisco, took a few courses at City College of San Francisco, and wrote a novel, “Among Amazons” about people who lived in the Tenderloin of San Francisco. I never showed it to anyone at the time. After a couple of years I moved back to Texas, first to Galveston and then to Austin. That was in 1979.

CH: How does your work as a playwright, particularly of a musical, influence your poetry? How has your poetry influenced you in your work as a playwright?

LR: In Austin again I found out there was a burgeoning theatre scene and you didn’t need a degree in Theatre to audition. I eventually got cast in some plays at a tiny theatre on 5th Street called Theatre In The Rye and took acting lessons when I could afford it. Through the 1980s I had big parts in small theatres and small parts in big theatres, Zachary Scott once, where the box office director became a good friend of mine. I started wrting plays based on the one I saw and played in, including my “Among Amazons” which I made into a play from the novel I was writing. The character in it is a poet, so that is the connection between the two forms of writing. Poetry is at the heart of any writing. A short story, a novel or a play is more than just plot and characters.

 

CH: Please tell us a bit about “Hamlet the Dane.” How were you inspired to write it? How was the experience of having it produced? Would you consider having it produced again?

LR: The owner of Theatre In The Rye , Ernie Gamble, cast me as Gertrude in “Hamlet” there and again a few years later after he had sold the theatre. I think that second production was in the Opera Lab Theatre at UT. About half way through that production I wondered what Monty Python would do with “Hamlet”, so I wrote a pythonesque version called “And Now For Something Completely…Rotten in the State of Denmark”. I had also taken video classes at Austin Community Television and produced a few shows there. At one point I joined ComedySportz and in 1988 somehow talked several of that troupe into being in a video version of “…Completely…Rotten…” which I showed on ACTV. In 1991 Capitol City Playhouse chose the play as the winner of their new plays contest and I changed the name to “Hamlet the Dane”. I went to seven performances of it, took video, edited it and put it up on ACTV.

The experience wasn’t perfect. I didn’t like the director’s playing up of the Oedipal angle between Hamlet and Gertrude. I mean, it was an outright seduction scene of a mother and her son. The director and the theatre owner told me I had to do it there way or the play wouldn’t be shown. What was probably worse, though, was the American high school boy humor they put in to get laughs. It is a farce and in the movie version we had the final fencing match all over town, including with Hamlet in a shopping cart and Laertes pushing it while they fenced in a KMart parking lot, that sort of thing, but I wanted the humor to come out of “Hamlet”, Shakespeare, Monty Python and British sources mainly. The director must have felt the punchlines didn’t come often enough. My vision was to have Shakespeare but go off in tangents commenting on the play, what modern audiences think about Shakespeare, the relationships among the characters, etc. Still I loved a lot of touches the cast brought to the show. It was nominated for at least one B. Iden Payne Award for a supporting actor who was in both the movie and the play, Les McGeehee, the leader of ComedySportz. He won the award by the way. I would love to do it again, especially my way.

CH: Please tell us about “Chanteuse.” What drew you to the musical as an expressive form?

LR: I had a thought for years that a sequel to Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret” might be called “Chanteuse”. I don’t know why I thought I could write a musical but I liked the challenge. In 1984 I was writing the plays “Among Amazons”, “…Completely…Rotten…” and “Chanteuse” all at the same time. If I had writer’s block on one, I would work on another. Trying to get “Chanteuse” produced is a story, maybe a play or novel in itself. One incident as told in the next answer will give you an idea. Cutting to the second decade of the 21st Century, I put a notice in the Austin Chronicle for musical arrangers. Two people answered, one dropped out of the project early on. The one who stayed is a singer/songwriter/music producer from Salado, Richard Paul Thomas (RpT), who put together our CD “Songs From Chanteuse” (available at BookWoman) for which he recorded and arranged the guitar music, brought in a wonderful pianist and arranger, Nelda Milligan, for the more “orchestral” parts, and talked the owner of Salado’s Silver Spur Theater into letting us put on the play there in 2011. In 2012 we were able to do “Chanteuse” at the City Theatre and Dougherty Arts Center in Austin. That’s the short version of the story.

CH: How was the experience of writing and producing “Chanteuse” different from “Hamlet the Dane?” How were the experiences similar? Do you have any new theatrical pieces in the works?

LR: I tried to get various theatres and theatre groups interested in “Chanteuse”, and would carry a script with me. Around the time “Hamlet the Dane” was produced at Capitol City Playhouse I was standing at a bus stop, script in hand, when this skinny 1970s fugitive guy asked me if that was a play I was carrying. I told him it was a musical, that I had written lyrics and made up melodies but I was not really a musician. He said he was a musician and offered to help me write the music. I was taking the bus because my broken car was in the driveway and I couldn’t afford to have it fixed. Well, this guy couldn’t pay his rent, lost his apartment, and I let him stay in my car. Eventually, he wanted to move into my apartment, started wheeling and dealing on the phone and bought a lighting system neither of us could afford for a planned production of “Chanteuse” in the backyard of Magnolia Cafe. He was a good musician but a bum and a con man, our male actor dropped out of the show, one of the women, a bit of a diva who was deaf in one ear, accused me of trying to make “Chanteuse” into some kind of “lesbian thing” when I rewrote the show to have the character Sid replaced by a female character, just so I could play the part so the show could go on. That was a different experience from “Hamlet the Dane”.

I’m working on a new musical, “Bluebonnet Road”, with a collaborator, Ron Kewin, in Round Rock. I’ve written the book, he and I have written the songs, and now we have a composer, Chris Kingsley, to do the score.

CH: You’ve written a novel—tell us about that. How did your writing change over the course of writing it? What did writing it teach you? Would you consider writing another?

LR: I started off writing a novel before I wrote plays and abandoned novels for a couple of decades. After the successes of “Chanteuse” I decided to try that form again. I didn’t know where I was going with the characters and the plot—I never do.–but I experimented with telling a story from various points of view. I didn’t plan for it to be a murder mystery but that is a logical genre for my experiment. I had been a Biology major in college and had been on a field trip to Galveston, so that became the setting for “Primitive Life”. My background in writing plays helps me with character and dialogue. I learned that 30,000 words is a wall that is hard for me to break through, and I think a novel needs to have upwards of 50,000, so I like to think of “Primitive Life” as a novella. It is available on Amazon.com and Smashwords. I am writing another novel. To get around the word number block I have decided to use my family history as a template. Four families eventually become one. There are interesting bits and pieces in my family story but much of the novel is completely made up. There are several self-contained stories in each chapter which I have read in writing groups. If I had time, I would read one at BookWoman, but it would take up all of my allotted feature time.

CH: What are you currently working on? Where do you see your writing going?

LR: As I said, I’m working on the musical “Bluebonnet Road” and my novel in progress. RpT will meet with me next week to discuss the next steps for “Chanteuse” and “Bluebonnet Road”. We might do a recording of the entire “Chanteuse”, book and all, maybe on DVD. He wants to hear “Bluebonnet Road” too. Maybe he could produce it. What’s next, who knows? I might want to try writing a screenplay and making a video movie of it. My second musical, “Hollywood Melody of 1933”, written a few years after “Chanteuse” needs to have a jazz score. I need to find someone to work on that with me. I would also like to see my backstage comedy, “The Caliche Springs Dinner Theatre”, which had one performance in the early 90s, have a full production.

CH: Who are some of your favorite authors? Your strongest influences? What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

LR: Among my favorite authors and influences are Maya Angelou, Amy Tan, John Irving, William Blake, William Shakespeare, Janet Evanovich, Stephen Jay Gould, Charles Darwin and Kathy Reichs. I haven’t read a lot of classic poetry lately. Most recently I read several poems from the Complete Works of Edgar Alan Poe. There is an annual poetry anthology of Tablerock Poets from a festival in Salado. I’ve been published in it for the last three years. I’ve read the other authors in it. This year the title is “Animal Tales”

CH: If you could perform or have work produced in any venue you wanted, where would that be?

LR: In Austin I would like to have “Bluebonnet Road” and “Chanteuse” performed at Dougherty Arts Center, if I can afford to produce them, or at the City Theatre, if they or another company could produce. Of course, I would love to have “Chanteuse” done Off-Broadway, or on Broadway. Maybe it and “Bluebonnet Road” could be done in theatres all around the country.

 

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