Photo by Jamie Haas for The Alabamian
The first time I saw River Reed was in “The Good Person of Szechwan.” I had to know who the actor was that, in my opinion, stole the show. Since then, River has been involved in “Circle Mirror Transformation” and is now working on another show, “Property Rites.” However, this time River is tackling the feat of directing.
I met River in the theater lounge. Where is this, you may ask? I’m still not entirely sure myself to be honest. I only know that if you exhaust all of the doors in Reynolds, you’ll eventually find the right one. It’s also a good indication that you’re headed in the right direction when you see theater professors’ names on the doors of the hallway leading to the room.
Needless to say, I was slightly flustered because I needed to make a good impression for my first interview for a project I’ve been dying to begin for a couple of weeks. I immediately relaxed when I met River because of his kind, cheerful demeanor. I wasn’t as intimidated as I expected to be since I know nothing about a director’s role other than what I learned from the TV show “Smash”, but this is the point about these interviews. To let Montevallo and myself know about the important, artistic contributions that our fellow students are making, and to learn about why they are so important. Of course, I started with the serious questions.
Ryann Taylor: We’re going to play a game of associations. If “Property Rites” was a dog it would be?
River Reed: A long-haired dachshund.
If “Property Rites” was a vacation spot it would be?
Ooh. Seattle. I know that’s weird, but Seattle.
I don’t know very many casseroles. I just want to say things with spinny noodles (laughs).
A clothing item?
I’m thinking… Like a hooded cape.
A beverage ?
Okay, so now we’re going to apply those questions to you. If you were a dog you would be?
I’d be a cat (laughs).
If you were a casserole you would be?
I have no idea. A baked spaghetti. It’s just what’s coming to mind.
A clothing item?
Something very flowy.
Diet Coke (points to a two liter of Diet Coke he has sitting on a table).
A vacation spot?
I’m thinking woods by a lake. Not a specific spot there (laughs).
Okay, who is someone in the greater theater or acting world that you really admire?
It’s not quite theater, like stage theater, but somebody that I’ve really come to admire is Felicia Day. She does a lot of these kind of nerdy web series things that are all about the things that I love. It’s all fantasy and she goes out and she finds these people and she creates it for herself which is kind of what I tried to do with this show. I went and found all these people, and I figured out how to do this and I just did it. So she’s a big person for me.
Now for part two of that question: your challenge is to make them any kind of food, but the catch is that this food is an audition for them to decide if they want to meet you. What would you make and why?
Okay. So I’m making a food based on them?
Yes, so they’ll want to meet you. So you can meet them.
I’m thinking cookies shaped like medieval weapons.
That’s perfect. Onto the serious questions. If you could write the dictionary definition for directing what would it be?
I think that a director is someone that interprets the story that underlies all the structure, and what their job is, is to negotiate that with the actors. So, you know, we have a set kind of image from reading the show, and then you go in and you put in your actors and part of the process that I use is where you kind of let them create the story. So it’s not necessarily what you saw, but you help them to shape it. So directing would be someone that provides a base interpretation for the show and then helps to mold the end product. So it’s not going to be any one person’s vision.
Does that ever get frustrating for you?
Oh yeah (laughs). All the time. Especially the style that I tried to approach this time. Like I said, you kind of let everybody get their piece in there, and I learned the style from an adjunct professor, his name was Chan Harris, and he was here, I think, two years ago. But it was if the actor had an urge to do something, just do it. You don’t have to ask permission, and if you asked permission he wouldn’t let you do it. So you just kind of had to do it, and then he would tone you down or make it bigger. Whatever he had to do. So there have been a couple of instances where somebody decided “I’m going to do this thing,” and then I’ll say, “well, let’s bring that down.” And then they don’t listen. So (laughs). So it’s a little challenging at times especially because you can get people who– they’ve got their vision and they’re like, “Okay, it’s not your vision it’s my vision.” And you’re like, “No. It’s our vision.”
Going off of that, what is it like directing versus being directed?
Let’s see. Directing has been a very interesting challenge because there’s so many more elements to it than just being your character. In a way, you have to be every single character and every single scenic element and every single light element. You have to think of the way that these mesh together, and then you have to – they’re constantly changing. So you’ve got a much broader viewpoint to work off of, and when you’re being directed it’s not that it’s any less. In a way it can even be so much more because being directed, you get the opportunity to become these people. Whereas, directing you help others to become. That was really the cool thing– was looking at some of the people that I’ve worked with or that I am working with and going, “Wow, I can’t believe that we achieved that.” So it’s very different being the director, and it’s really cool. At the same time it’s really scary. But then that’s true of all theater. It can be really, really cool and if you do it right it will be scary.
So what do you prefer? Directing or acting?
Well, this is my first time directing, but I’ve been performing, I don’t want to say acting, I’ve been performing since I was about five years old. So I think right now acting is more of my focus because I need to learn more to be a director, and that was kind of what the whole motivation of this project was. I wanted to see out of all these things I’ve learned, can I put this to use in a bigger way and in an independent way. I’ve been working with all these teachers and great minds of theater, and when I say “great minds,” I’m just talking about the other students here. Like, wow, some of these people are crazy. Crazy good, also crazy (laughs).
So right now my biggest love would be the acting because I get to explore more of the person. I get to explore the deeper connections to the story and that’s another thing that’s just kind of unique to me. Is I love looking at communication and movements and figuring out all the things that aren’t said and all that kind of stuff. And when you have a specific character to focus on that helps you live in that world. As a director, sometimes you have to keep yourself out of the world so that you can help everyone else stay in it. That’s a bit of a challenge. What I need to learn is how I can balance that out, and that’s only going to come with experience.
So why did you decide at age five to start performing?
Well, it wasn’t really a decision. I went to a Christian Private School in Mississippi, and every class at the end of every year had to do a musical performance. When I was five, I played a duck in my kindergarten graduation. I have no idea what I sang, but I remember I walked right up to the front and I had this one weird black, snaggly tooth. It was creepy. ‘Cause it was just like big ass duck face then my face (he creates the shape of a mask with his hands and puts his face in it). Hello. And, yeah. So that was weird.
I guess when I actually chose to start doing this it was in high school. I realized, I want to say in eighth grade, that I had been doing this my whole life and not just when I had to. It bled over into my real life. I’m a really loud person, and I love stories. I create all this kind of stuff. I write all these things for no reason. I can never write a play, though. It’s weird. I can’t write action. I don’t know why. I like the story. Somebody else can write the play. I’ll write the story. But I’ve been doing it forever, and since I got here I’ve kind of been pulling out the mysteries of theater and it’s really cool because when you think about it this is the oldest living art form. We’ve been telling stories since we could talk. We haven’t been able to draw forever. We haven’t been able to really communicate forever. But we’ve always been able to tell stories and pass on our information to another person, and that’s what theater’s about. And that’s why I’m so into it. I want to keep doing it forever because there’s so much in it that I can explore.
Why did you choose to come to Montevallo?
Okay, so I had a friend. Originally I hated the thought of coming to Montevallo because I was told things about Montevallo. And I was like, “Oh, it’s that art school that I’m going to go to and everybody’s going to be really weird, and then I’m going to graduate and everyone’s going to go, “Oh you went to Montevallo.” And so I had it in my head that I was not going here. And then it turns out a friend of mine, Savannah Gunn, who graduated a couple years ago, or was it last year? One of those. She came to Montevallo, and I met up with her on accident over the summer. And she started talking about Montevallo and how great it was for her. Then she started talking about College Night and how awesome it was to be involved. So I started actually thinking about it. Then I came here on a tour with her, and it just kind of stuck. So that’s how I actually ended up choosing to come here. A friend helped me find that choice. It sounds very metaphysical.
It sounds very beautifully abstract (we laugh).
Well, thank you.