Spotlight Interview: Richard Bristow

Richard Bristow: Voice Actor & Teacher (Gordon Central High School)

Rome, Georgia

WFU MA Class of 1986

Theatre Program

Richard Bristow really.jpg

Richard Bristow walks us through his path since Wake’s MA Theatre program, including acting and networking experiences across the country and enlightening us on the art of voiceover work. He leaves us with a gleaming kernel of advice at the end- read on to find out!

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake? What year did you finish your Masters?

Richard Bristow: I was in Wake’s graduate school. Theatre was my concentration. I went to Brenau for undergrad. And to IU for my MFA.

DL: Why did you choose Wake for your Masters?

RB: My mentor at Brenau was a Wake product. He highly recommended it. I went and interviewed and loved it. They gave me an assistantship, too, which was great.

DL: Please walk me through your path from graduate school to your current job.

RB: My path has been all over the place. Right after graduation I worked at an outdoor theater in North Carolina (Horn in the West), and then I went to the Denver Center Theater Company and worked the school year there. It’s a professional theater company that won the first Tony award for a rep company. Then I went to La Jolla Playhouse in California. I went back and forth between those two for a few years. Then my wife, who I met at La Jolla, was a student at Indiana University. I spent a spring break with her, and then I worked at IU for nine years. Then I went to Denver, then Shorter, Berry, and now I am teaching high school. I currently am in Rome, Georgia, and I teach in Calhoun.

DL: What is it like teaching high school?

RB: The kids’ energy is boundless. They are really open and they are eager to learn. Especially for someone who taught in college for nearly thirty years, these students are thriving, and as a result, I am thriving. I love it. We have been to the Shuler Awards. It is the Georgia High School musical theater awards. It is sponsored by Shuler Hensley. It is a really big to-do in high school. We have won three awards in the short two years that I have been at Gordon Central. We have done really well with our one act competitions as well. We have won the region competition for three years in a row - and state one of those! We will be competing in the state competition again this year. I’ll let you know! We are not technically an arts school, but we consider ourselves one.

I also do voiceovers on the side. I got into it when my children were in high school. The were in a place where they didn’t want anything to do with me, so I had free time. So I started pursuing voiceover, which I had always wanted to do. I have done national and regional commercials. I have been in video games and audio games (video games for the blind). I have been everything from grunts and screams in a video game to the end boss in a video game.

DL: How much did your studies and general experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?

RB: The thing about theatre, in undergrad and graduate school, you learn a lot of different skills that are applicable in real life. The main one is deadlines. You can't push opening night. You learn to work as a team. Theater is a big collaboration and you can’t function without your team. You are also pushed to think outside the box. There are times where you don't have the budget of Disney, but you still have to do something and be creative in your problem solving skills.

DL: What sort of tips and suggestions do you have for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?

RB: Just don't burn your bridges. It is incredibly true that theatre is a very small world. The more I work in it, the more I realize everyone knows everyone. Even if you don't know someone, you know someone that does. If you make one person mad, you’ve burned a bridge and you won't find work. Don't be a diva. Be nice to people.

There’s a helpful tip I learned in a voiceover workshop. If you are networking somewhere and there is someone with power there, don’t give them your business card - take theirs. If you give them your card, you are one of fifteen to twenty people to do so in one night, and they will likely not remember you. Whereas if you take theirs and send a personal email the next day, then you are more apt to make an impression on them.

DL: Tell me more about some of these workshops you’ve taken.

RB: I am interested in all things theatre, including voiceover. Bob Bergen, who’s currently the voice of Porky the Pig, I’ve taken classes with him. I’ve done workshops in LA and Atlanta. I have taken a workshop with Katie Leigh who is the voice of Connie in Adventures in Odyssey. We’ve become friends. I have also delved into stage combat with the Society of American Fight Directors. I was an Actor Combatant for a while, but I let my membership lapse. That type of work is fun. I am a very physical person, so I love the stage combat, and my high school students love it, too. I am also a big fan of Michael Chekhov’s acting technique. The National Michael Chekhov Association is a wonderful caring place to learn about this amazing technique. Great people run both organizations and I’ve learned a great deal about acting from both!

DL: What do you think schools could do to better to prepare students for life after graduation?

RB: For actors, it would be great to teach them how to audition well. I think Wake did that somewhat, but I've learned a lot since then. Also, a very important lesson I learned at Wake is that the world doesn’t revolve around me. I came in with such an egocentric attitude, and I learned at Wake very quickly you can't bowl you way through life. You have to be able to work with people and collaborate. Not just “Here’s my idea.” but “Here’s my idea and what are yours?” and relish those other ideas and accept them.

For technicians or designers, the portfolio is most important. That’s a big thing now, but it wasn’t while I was there. It’s changed a lot since I was there. You have to have a really solid portfolio, and it has to be digital these days. You should have your own website. Actors should, too. You also need to have a social media presence as well.

DL: What is your favorite part about teaching high school students?

RB: They aren’t tainted yet. They are so open to learning new things. They are eager and that’s what I love about it - their eagerness. Undergrads and graduate students aren’t that way. The longer you are in school, the more tainted you become. They are so new, especially the 9th graders. They are so wide-eyed and eager to learn. I have one student now that is so talented and may be on Broadway. She is always asking what she can do to get better. I love that. I have a student that just graduated, and after every performance, she would come up and ask “Any notes?” and I absolutely loved that.

DL: What is next for you?

RB: I will do voiceover until I die. June Foray, who was the voice of Rocky from Rocky and Bullwinkle and Cindy Lou Who in the animated Grinch (among tons of others), did voiceovers until she died. As long as I can speak and record, I will do voiceovers. I have another eight-and-a-half years before I retire from teaching high school. I am looking forward to retirement, and I am under double digits now which is exciting.

DL: What kernel of advice would you like to impart to the readers?

RB: It goes back to what I said before. Be nice to everyone and don't burn your bridges. Don't talk badly about anyone to anyone. You don't know who that person is. The audition starts in the parking lot. That person you cut off for the prime parking spot . . . that was the casting director. The whole world would be better if we could be nicer to each other and stop talking badly about people. You don't know who knows that person, and you don't want to be “that person” and have a reputation of talking trash.

Readers can go http://bristowvo.com to listen to Richard’s demos and resumes.

Spotlight Interview: Cambra Overend

CAMBRA OVEREND: STAGE MANAGER (ON AND OFF BROADWAY)

New York City

WFU Class of 2004

Major: Theatre and Religion

Minor: Gender Studies

IMG_6949.jpg

 

Cambra Overend is the Production Stage Manager for the play Children of a Lesser God.  You may have heard of her stage managing plays such as, Tony Award Winning August: Osage County, Oslo, This is Our Youth, and many more. We recently got her thoughts on her stage managing experience and the theatre scene!

 

DeacLink: Can you please walk me through your path from graduation to your current job?

Cambra Overend: I started working towards my career while I was still in school. I spent a couple of summers at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts. They do a lot of professional theater work during the summers which often later ends up in New York. After I graduated, I applied for internships at various theaters around the country. I got an internship offer in Baltimore at a theater called Center Stage. I decided to take it because they had a great program and because of its proximity to New York. After a year at Center Stage, I obtained another internship in NYC at an off-Broadway theater called Playwrights Horizons. Technically I was a production assistant, but I worked backstage like an assistant stage manager; and I started freelancing from there. After that year, I got a couple of small jobs off-Broadway, working as a production assistant and assistant stage manager. A big break for me was when I landed a job on a play called August: Osage County. In 2008, it won the Tony Award for Best Play. I have just been working my way up the ladder ever since.

 

DL: What was your favorite production to work on?

CO: Gosh, that is hard to say. August: Osage County was really important to me because it was such a success - artistically and critically. August was also my first Broadway show. I recently did a play at Lincoln Center called Oslo by J.T.  Rogers. It was very special for me because I started with it off-Broadway and then it transferred to Broadway. Last year it also won the Tony Award for Best Play. And I am still involved with it to a certain extent.

 

DL: How much did your studies and your general experience at Wake Forest University drive your career path?

CO: I went into college thinking that I might do something in the theater, but I was not a hundred percent certain. That uncertainty is why I chose a liberal arts school instead of a conservatory. I also am a firm believer in a liberal arts education generally. I think 18 years old is a bit young to know what you are going to spend the rest of your life doing, for most people. The Theater Department at Wake gave me a really great foundation for my professional career. I got a lot of opportunities. For instance, I got to travel to Europe to study theater. And I got to  participate in my first professional theater production the summer of my freshman year -- at eighteen, I got to stage manage a production in Los Angeles. They also helped me find my way to Williamstown. It was a great introduction to the world of professional theater. Wake Forest was what led me to decide theatre is what I wanted to do.

 

DL: What's the most interesting thing going on in the theater scene at this very moment?

CO: I think one of the most exciting things happening in the theatre scene right now is the social movement happening around “MeToo” and the current state of politics in general in the country. It is bringing to the forefront the concerns about representations of diversity generally, but women in particular: the need for more female directors, female playwrights, female designers, and in higher levels of the theatrical industry.  Of course, it’s not just happening in the theater, it’s happening across all levels of management in all the industries - higher and better levels of representation overall.

 

DL: What is your favorite part about working as a stage manager?

CO: The best part to me about being a stage manager is that you are the only person in the room with the actors and the director from the very beginning -- as opposed to being a general manager or a company manager or being a producer. Being a stage manager gives you the most intimate, immediate access to the heart of the process. Even after the director leaves, you are the one who is there all the way through to closing night. It is you there with the actors every single night, maintaining the artistic shape of the show, seeing the show's growth, seeing the show change, and making sure it doesn’t change too much!  That is something you don’t get much practice with in the educational theater world, because the productions do not run that long and the directors are usually still around.

 

DL: Any advice for our readers?

CO: I think you have to start to look ahead a little bit while you’re in college. Try to do as much as you can to get some experience outside of the educational realm - work somewhere during the school-year if you can (on or off campus, or pick up some hours in your department of study if suitable), look for internships or jobs during the summers. When you start to apply for jobs after college, it will show you have been using your time valuably.  Aim high. Search for internship programs. There is always something you can be doing. And if you do not know for sure what you want to do, then just try things. If you find you hate it, do something different the next summer. Whatever you can do to get yourself out of the educational world and get an eye on the way the professional world works. The experience will always be valuable because it will help you hone your skills and better sort out what you want to do next after you finish your education.