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Teacher Tribute Series

MTS Director Richard Crawford

Richard Crawford

MTS Founder and Director

When did you start training in Lecoq and why did you choose to study at L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq?

I did my undergraduate training at a very reputable London drama school. But it was the standard Stanislavskian training with a smattering of alternative forms, Lecoq, Grotowski etc. I enjoyed it but kept getting cast in the old people roles! I think it was because I was good at physicalizing them. I then worked for a couple of years in various pub theaters in London—and waiting tables of course—and I decided I wanted to take my physical training further. I realized I was an actor that put their body first and I want to go deep into that area. Plus I was also pretty depressed with Thatcher's Britain and wanted to get the hell out!

I'm sure you had many, but can you remember and describe a particular breakthrough moment in your training or work?

In my class at Lecoq I had a friend called Gonzalo Muñoz (now a regular clown with Cirque du Soleil) and one day he brought into class an observation of a giraffe that he had made at one of the Parisian zoos. It blew me away. His ability to capture the dynamic of this languorous elegant animal just blew me away. He WAS the giraffe! I didn't realize there were people in the world who understood their bodies so beautifully as Gonzalo—and when he ate the leaves at the top of a tree I choked up. It was amazing.

How do you think specifically training in Lecoq has changed you as an artist and your approach for the better?

Not to sound pretentious but my training at Lecoq made me think of myself as an artist. My training prior to that made me think of myself as an actor. I am a do-it-my way kind of person (for good or for bad!) so becoming an actor/creator spoke to me hugely.

What motivates you everyday to do this kind of work and stay committed to this art form?

I am not a religious person but through my training at Lecoq I learned how to look at the world around me with an inquiring eye. This level of observation in turn leads me to understand new levels of humanity. Pretty grandiose but true. Lecoq used to say "you can look at the world but can you see it?." This approach helps me to see the poetic (maybe even the spiritual?) in the everyday, tangible world around me. Also, even though I am intellectually curious I understand the world physically mostly. So this approach was incredibly accessible for me as an actor.

What artist do you admire, look up to & why?

I have several friends—including my wife, Adrienne Kapstein—whose desire to create new work all the time is voracious. These friends are never satisfied with the last work they made. I think that my particular skill in the collaborative ensemble based process is to take someone else's idea and run with it. I always need an outside prompt. But some of the people I admire the most create that prompt in their head!

What piece of advice do you have to new artists beginning their careers today?

When I was setting up my theater company The Flying Machine we asked a lawyer who was familiar with the arts about getting our nonprofit status. His advice was to make some work first, get a reputation and then put our energy into applying for the nonprofit status. This was great advice as when we did the grants came flooding in. Sort of! There is so much pressure these days to brand yourself, put yourself on social media, and crowd source your creativity! I say just get out there, dig deep and put something up. If it's good the people and the money will come.

What's one of your favorite plays, films or art works?

I love Moliere. I have directed a few of his plays and I have never felt such complicity with an artist who is not living anymore. I see his plays as a dance. It's a super intricate dance where if one note is missed the whole structure falls apart. I love structure!

As a MTS teacher, how would you describe your approach in the classroom?

I'm a little old-fashioned—lots of discipline. But then with good structure we can let loose with the fun! I also perform in class a little bit. I can't help myself! I would like to think that I can sometimes illustrate points by doing them. Just a little bit. I try not to self indulge!

How did MTS come about?

With The Flying Machine everybody also had restaurant jobs in the evening. We would rehearse between 8 AM and 1 PM five days a week. In the basement of the church and Carroll Gardens! Needless to say the schedule got pretty tiring. So I decided to hold a workshop and see if I could make some money that way. I found out I absolutely loved teaching and the people that knew our work became our students. Then I wrote some random letters explaining my background and training to every university in the tri-state area. I landed a small adjunct position at Yale! I then proceeded over the next 10 years to teach at nearly all of those universities. NYU, Sarah Lawrence, Bard, Stella Adler studios, even teaching neutral mask at the Lee Strasberg institute! At the end of every semester the students would ask me where they could get more of this work. I realized there was a niche that needed to be filled. Bingo: MTS was born. We have been going about seven years and for the last three have attracted over 300 students a year. Most are from the US but we have had students each year from Australia, Singapore, Canada, and Greece to name a few.

Career highlights?

Founding member of award-winning physical theater ensemble in NYC The Flying Machine, lead clown in Slava's Snowshow, ongoing clown direction with Cirque du Soleil, actor in two-year run on Broadway of War Horse.