Richard Hopkins, BFA in Performance, 1970
Producing Artistic Director, Florida Studio Theatre
Unlike many alum, theatre wasn’t on Richard’s radar until his first year of junior college. He took a persuasive speaking course and the teacher got him to help build sets, which led to acting. He had friends going to the visual arts program at VCU (ahem, it was still RPI—Richmond Public Institute—at that point) and a friend of Donna Aronson (BFA ’71) was transferring to drama. “I’d had enough of liberal arts and wanted to get down to brass tacks training.”
He performed in a number of shows at VCU, including playing George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Susan Sandler. “My time in college was a time of awakening. Raymond Hodges, the department’s founder, was smart and kind and guided me through so much. When I was ready to graduate, he suggested I intern at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota.”
So, Richard and Ginger Montague (BFA ’69) rented a van and drove down to Florida. Richard got his Equity card and spent three years acting at Asolo. Susan Sandler came back into his life as Emily in Our Town (Richard played George). Susan went on to write the play that became the movie Crossing Delancey and now teaches screenwriting at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
After seeing famed mime Tony Montanaro at RPI, Richard studied with him in the summer of ’69 at Woodstock (he didn’t make it to the famous fest). He planned to go to Europe to research and write a book called “Mimes on Mime” in the vein of the “Actors on Acting” series, but he stopped off in DC to see Raynor Scheine (read Raynor’s recent spotlight here) and ended up founding the Palisades Theatre Company in St. Petersburg, Florida. Fellow alum Lach Adair served as GM.
After six years, ”I was burning out and feeling more like a banker than a theatre artist.” Richard took a break to re-focus, when he got a call to become director of the Florida Studio Theatre while John Spelman took a year-long sabbatical. “John never came back and I became permanent.” That began the career as AD that he holds to this day.
Richard explains, “We were in the same town as Asolo and didn’t want to compete, so we focused on contemporary American work. Then I started to realize that experimental theatre attracts experimental audiences, so we focused on expanding.” They opened the first of what is now two cabaret stages and has evolved into two main stages, two cabarets and one black box space. Currently, they have 14,000 subscribers.
Like everyone, COVID shut them town, “We went from 165 people on the payroll to 35.” They returned in March and by July 2021 all five theatres were open and ticket sales were 25% ahead of 2019! In late July, Delta resulted in additional reductions. “Our good news is that 98% of audience is vaxed. Since the governor has denied us the ability to demand proof of vaccination, we worked with other theatres and an attorney to create a workaround. We can demand a test within 72 hours of the show or if they’d like to share their vax proof, they can opt for that.”
At one point, he noticed Richard Newdick in his subscriber list, so re-connected with the former department chair, who had retired in Sarasota. “I was able to thank him for everything he did. I had been stockpiling all this information and have been using it every day since college.”
Compiled by Liz Hopper, professor emeritus, and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the September 2021 Theatre Alumni Newsletter.