RICHARD AVERBUCH–MAKING DRAMATIC CHANGES
When Richard Averbuch arrived at BOLLI a year ago, shortly after his retirement, he joined CAST (Creative Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) and quickly became a mainstay in this very special Special Interest Group. With his background in theatre–and improvisation, in particular—he was soon leading exercises and workshops, eventually becoming, along with Sandy Clifford, the group’s co-leader. This term, he and Becky Meyers (long time Scene-iors leader) have joined forces to lead BOLLI actors in an online production of A.R. Gurney’s “The Dining Room.”
BOLLI actors have certainly enjoyed getting to know Richard (pictured above in a recent BOLLI Play Reading group sbot) and so, it seems a fitting time to introduce him to our community as a whole.
So, Richard, how did you get involved in theater?
When I was in middle school, sometime in the late 1960s, our English teacher took us to see a series of three plays at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. To his credit, he wanted to challenge us, so he selected Death of a Salesman, Under Milkwood, and Six Characters in Search of an Author. I didn’t fully grasp either “Milkwood” or “Six Characters,” but I was totally mesmerized by the environment created by the actors, the language, and the production values of each. And I was transported by “Salesman.”
When I was in high school, our drama teacher encouraged us to explore alternative theater. He had a highly skilled mime performer come in to give workshops, culminating in the creation of a mime troupe at the school. By way of audition, we were asked to perform an original mime, something I had never done before! Mine was a sketch about a fisherman who baits a hook and casts it into the water. After a few minutes, he notices a tasty looking sandwich that has been left on the beach. Curious, he decides to take a little bite and—you guessed it—he gets a hook in his mouth and is pulled into the sea by a very different “fisherman” from a watery world. Much to my surprise, the audience laughed, and I was selected to be in the troupe.
That same drama teacher also brought a member of The Committee, a pioneering improvisation company in San Francisco known for their cutting-edge political satire (anti-war and social justice themes, in particular). But most important, all the members had strong theater backgrounds—mostly trained in Viola Spolin’s improvisation techniques. I absolutely loved the approach, and my mime experience fit very comfortably. I took a variety of workshops with The Committee, which had a theater in North Beach, San Francisco. One of the members of the company was an acting student at the College of Marin—Robin Williams. It was clear, from the start, that he was gifted. Soon, he was off to Julliard and beyond. I ended up creating an directing an improvisation company at my high school, and we performed at various venues in San Francisco. Our performance specialty was a long-form “Herald,” an extended piece for the entire ensemble. After graduation, I ended up being a performer and education director at the Roundhouse Theater, still a very successful theater outside Washington D.C. in Bethesda, Maryland.
What led you to make what seems like a. dramatic career change from theater to health care?
After 6-7 years in the professional theatre, I wanted a new intellectual challenge, so I enrolled in the Master of Public Administration program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. After graduation, I ended up working on health policy—and eventually, I leveraged my knowledge of communications into marketing/communications positions at Beth Israel Deaconess and Mass General. And my health care career came to a close working for the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care—i.e., working on improving care for those with serious illness also facing end-of-life. Very inspiring!
I became interested in BOLLI as a way to reconnect with my background in the humanities, literature, visual and performing arts. Especially exciting for me has been connecting with other BOLLI members interested in the theater. As part of the CAST special interest group, I’ve taught improvisation workshops, and we’re currently planning to perform The Dining Room as our major activity this term.
But, in addition, it’s been great to see the broad selection of courses offered in my areas of interest as the study groups feed the intellectual life of the entire BOLLI community.
I’ve found BOLLI to be a welcoming community of continued learning. Of course, we all look forward to the day when we can return to in-person classes; they enhance and enliven the experience, for sure!
It’s been a while since posting a BOLLI member profile! During this time, in particular, it is harder for us to get to know each other, so it seems fitting that we bring back this part of our blog activities. Have someone you’d like to either profile yourself or have us profile? Please send ideas! (firstname.lastname@example.org)