The Next Stage – Stephanie Richardson (now Smith)

Article by Donia Lilly first published in:
Reno News & Review – June. 30, 2005 ~

(Note: When first published, the subject’s last name was Richardson, but has since changed to Smith)


If you passed Stephanie Richardson on the street, you might never picture this sweet 5’2″ blonde as a biker chick or an alcoholic, sex-crazed psychotherapist – examples of just two of the diverse roles she has played in the past. But this is exactly what a good actor can do: transform a person you may know personally, into someone you do not recognize. In the world of theatre, this is a very good thing.

Richardson, a Tennessee native with no detectable accent, is the artistic director of the newly formed TheatreWorks of Northern Nevada, which offers acting classes for children, teens and adults, culminating in stage productions at the McKinley Arts Center.

Stephanie Smith theater actress

Richardson moved to Reno five years ago after working in theatre and TV in New York and LA for ten years. She immediately got involved in the local theatre scene, appearing in productions by the Nevada Shakespeare Company, Brüka Theatre and the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. Her most notable local starring role was as Bilbo Baggins in Brüka’s production of The Hobbit. Her diligence and talent have been recognized this year by the Sierra Arts Foundation, which awarded her a Performing Artist Grant.

Richardson’s theatre roots began to grow when she was a sophomore in public high school in Tennessee. She went on to study at the prestigious and extremely competitive North Carolina School of the Arts (where actors were regularly cut from the program), but it was her passionate and unorthodox high school theatre teacher who lit the dramatic fire. “She scared me so much, I had to rehearse,” Richardson says, laughing in remembrance of the woman who was to become her mentor.

When displeased, her teacher would throw chairs and desks around the classroom. In order to avoid the violent tantrums and impress, Richardson constantly rehearsed. However, it wasn’t simply fear that motivated the budding actress. She respected the woman who took her under her wing, and methodically erased Richardson’s ubiquitous southern accent, unless required for a role. She was in awe of a teacher who gave up her weeknights and weekends for rehearsals, designing costumes, sets, and taking students to drama tournaments.

Of a decidedly different temperament but kindred passion, Richardson’s congenial but focused manner has won over many acting students. She has been teaching drama for four years now through Creative Performing Arts, The Actory, Nevada Performing Arts, ACNN, and VSA Arts of Nevada. One of her current students, 11 year-old Brendan Aguiar, has just landed an LA agent and a national commercial for Dodge.

Richardson has also directed several adult and youth productions (Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Eleemosynary), and has a goal of opening her own full-scale theatre company.

“Hopefully with the momentum from the theatre school I will be able to establish a theatre company which will produce more new works dealing with current issues as well as classic theatre.”

One major difference from other local theatre companies will be that Stephanie wants to offer the actors a percentage of the box-office and keep the roles open. Having the actors more involved in ticket sales, supplementing from the theatre classes, and grants are just some of the ways she plans to do this. Richardson’s experience and involvement with other theatre companies have proven that this is possible, such as with The Actory, and Theater West LA. She is of the opinion that offering actors anything is better than nothing.

“Most actors in Reno are unpaid, and they don’t have a chance to be seen by casting directors. For instance, in LA and New York actors want to do theatre because there is potential for being seen and possibly put into a movie or TV show. Here, the actors do it just for the love of theatre. I think people who are volunteering their time should be treated well – actors, stage managers, crew… honestly, I haven’t seen that happening here in Reno. In my experience outside of this town, actors and crew are treated with more respect. I don’t want it to be a stigma to be an actor,” says Richardson.

Coming from someone who has appeared opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman onstage in NYC, on several episodes of Friends, in an original production by Peter Hedges (author of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?), and was a company member of the critically acclaimed Road Theatre, it seems a very pointed insight.

She goes on to say, ” There are some really talented actors in Reno, and interest in the arts is building with Artown and other events. But I see the same people getting the lead roles all the time, and there is a good-sized pool of actors in this community. I’d like to see more of them get a shot, which would only help the growth of the local acting community.”

Contact info:

TheatreWorks of Northern Nevada
(formerly Actors’ Conservatory of N. Nevada)
Stephanie Richardson – artistic director
private lessons available – ages 6 to adult
call for class info: 685-2687

The artistic director of the newly formed TheatreWorks of Northern Nevada is now offering beginning and intermediate acting classes for children, advanced acting for teens, and beginning through advanced acting for adults. Each session will end with a performance on the McKinley Arts Stage, and will focus on scene study, monologues, improvisation, voice projection, articulation, and stage presence. beginning and intermediate acting classes for children, advanced acting for teens, and beginning through advanced acting for adults.

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