Welcome to a regular, if intermittent feature: Irreverent, lighthearted question & answer sessions with some of South Florida’s best known professionals.
Careful, he’s got a gun. Nicholas Richberg is waving around a Civil War pistol these days and sporting an equally dangerous moustache while he sings as John Wilkes Booth in Zoetic Stage’s production of the musical Assassins which has one more week in its run.
He’s currently nominated as best actor in the current Carbonell competition for last summer’s performances as “M” in GableStage’s Cock. We wrote at the time “But the standout here is Richberg, who imbues his character with texture and soul. Even though John is the character in conflict, John’s boyfriend, in Richberg’s capable hands, is the one who seems to go through the most changes. Sometimes he’s catty, hateful and venomous, and sometimes he’s insightful, loving and vulnerable. Sometimes he oppresses, other times he seems the real victim of the piece. And Richberg’s performance is riveting.”
He’s just as adept as comedy (the suicidal hero in Zoetic’s All New People). Much of his decade in professional theater has been tied up with Zoetic’s co-founder Michael McKeever including starring in the world premieres of McKeever’s Melt and Stuff.
But there are hidden sides to Richberg, revealed here, including his cat’s reactions to his singing, how real estate is like theater, and a previously undisclosed talent involving a semi-tractor trailer.
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You’re a native Miamian. Are there many of you?
A few. Most deflect the question or flat-out deny it. The humidity scrambles our brains at birth.
How long have you lived/worked in South Florida?
I started working locally right out of school, before even. That was…oh boy…2001ish. But I grew up at The Hollywood Playhouse (probably way too fast) doing amazing work with very talented people who taught me a lot about producing theater for the sheer love of it.
What school did you graduate from/what was your major?
I was a voice major at UM for three years before my heart (and stubbornness) led me to NYU and back to UM again where I became very active in the theater department and finally graduated with a BA in Music. Theater was my minor.
You are Zoetic’s social media director. How does that job differ from Julie on The Love Boat?
I mean, I have good hair, but I can’t compete with Julie’s do. Plus I think if she were around now, she could out-tweet me any day.
You fire that pistol a lot as Booth in Assassins. Have you much experience do you have in firing guns? If so, when; if not, what was it like learning? Did it help in keeping the director in line on this project?
My dad was a City of Miami policeman for 25 years. So I grew up around guns. I actually had my own and went shooting all the time with my dad when I was a kid. Of course, they’re dangerous, but there’s nothing inherently evil about them. There are different rules for “Theatrical Firearms” and we had a great teacher. They definitely demand respect and we’re incredibly careful and regimented with them. Our director also comes with his own set of rules, and can take years to learn how to operate.
How did you prepare for the role of Booth in Assassins? When did you start working on it?
I think I probably started working on it as I stumbled out of (the New York revival at) Studio 54 in 2004 blown away and convinced I had to do it someday! It’s a challenging score so I started learning the music over the summer to be able to get the toughest parts in my bones. I also did some research on the historical Booth, but, ultimately, I serve the Booth John Weidman wrote- who is probably a lot more fun that the real one. OH and the ‘stache started in November!
What did you learn about Booth that you didn’t know? The power of the ‘stache.
You do a great deal of singing in Assassins; how long has it been since you sang in a show and what was it? Is it true as you wrote on Facebook that your cat hides when you practice at home?
Oh, Facebook. First, the last time I sang in a show in Miami was 10 years ago in Blood Brothers, my first Carbonell nomination, by the way. I still love that bizarre little show, and that production had so much heart. As for Frances the cat, she may, in fact, run and hide under the kitchen cabinets when I sing at home. I had a teacher who used to say, “Make all your ugly noises in the practice room, so no one has to hear them on stage.” Frances is an unwilling audience of one when I vocalize at home before a show. That said, she comes running when my wife Lisa sings. OK, FINE, she hates my singing. She also licks herself and buries her food with imaginary dirt, so I don’t feel too bad. Everyone’s a critic.
Your day job is as a real estate broker. How do the two professions intersect? Improv skills. There’s VERY little I haven’t had to deal with on the fly as a broker, especially in New York City. They’re similar in the sense that you have to be a good self-starter and disciplined. In Miami I’m lucky to have a very cool business partner who understands my “dual life” and is a lover of the arts, and a supporter of Zoetic Stage.
You tried to establish a base in New York. What lessons did you learn up there that young actors down here might benefit from?
I moved to NYC in 2006 and began checking off all the right boxes, the right auditions, the right connections, etc. Life had other plans, and I changed course to guide my mother through a year-and-a-half of battling cancer. When the dust finally settled, my priorities changed and I realized Miami was my home for better or for worse. My wife Lisa and I moved back in 2011, and decided we would make it for the better. I couldn’t be happier with our decision. New York City is an amazing place for young people pursuing a dream. My one bit of advice would be, if you find you’re spending more time and energy pursuing New York than pursuing your dream, or if your dreams change, leave. Only blind men are afraid to change course.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
It totally depends on the role. Some require a great deal of emotional focus. For this one, aside from the boring warm-up, steam and chug water, I enjoy tormenting younger cast members, commenting on how good my costume looks, and gobbling backstage baked goods. Anything to keep my energy up and focus on fun, versus getting in my head.
What do you do after a show? How do you wind down and leave the work behind?
I go home! Once in a blue moon I’ll go out after, but I’m not much fun because I don’t drink during a show and I don’t talk in loud restaurants. As for leaving work behind, there’s not much challenge in that for me. I’m an actor. I wear pretend clothes and say pretend words while reacting carefully to the people around me. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but it’s the bottom line. If you play the play, as they say, and the play is over, there’s nothing to take home. There are occasional emotionally exhausting exceptions (Cock by Mike Bartlett) but in general once the bows are over, I can’t wait to run home to my DVR.
What was the first show you were involved in and what did you do?
I played the singing shepherd in my 4th grade Christmas Pageant. I was in Mack & Mabel (with the amazing Patti Gardner) at The Hollywood Playhouse when I was 12 wearing short pants and carrying a giant lollypop. My first Equity job was Barnett Lloyd in Crimes of the Heart in 2002 at Shores Performing Arts Theater.
When did you know this was what you wanted to do and why?
When I was a kid my dad took me to see a small local production of Dracula the Musical, only because I really loved Dracula. My love of Dracula was instantly replaced by a love for the magic of theater. And a childhood realization that becoming an actor would be a little easier than becoming a vampire.
What role/play are you dying to do but no one would think of you for?
I have two that pop to mind. I’ve always had a Tom Wingfield in me waiting to get out. I may not have much time left, I suppose, but I think often actors are too young to bring the right perspective to the role. Also The Baker. When I profess my love of Into the Woods as my favorite Sondheim, most people assume I’d want to play Wolf/Prince, but I’d really really love to play the Baker.
What show will you be happy never to see again unless it gets you a job?
If I didn’t enjoy seeing it, I probably wouldn’t want to be in it. One of my faults as an actor is I have to believe in the material.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given about the business and who gave it to you?
Honestly, I wish I remembered who, because it’s true: “Run your own race.”
What’s the hardest part of what you do?
Staying childlike. Oh, and deciding what to do with my hair.
Do you have unexpected special talents and skills?
Hmmm…I did an industrial film once and learned to do a full pit stop service on an 18-wheel truck. And I tap.
Do you get stage fright? If so, how do you cope with it?
Anyone who says they don’t is full of it. The adrenaline can keep you on point if you channel it right.
What do think has been your best work in the theater to date, and why?
I learned a long time ago that I’m my own worst judge – plus there are so many elements that have to align for something to be seen as the “best.” I do have my favorites though.
What do you think was your worst, and why didn’t it work?
I don’t think “worst” is the right word, but I did a Michael McKeever play called Wait and See. It is about a man who loses everything and finds himself through the hope he gives others. I don’t think I’d lived enough. It’s a role that I’ve thought about during some tough times in my life and thought, “Ohhh, THAT’S what that feels like.”
What one role/show would like to do over or just do again?
Well, maybe that one. I also thought Stuff (also by Michael McKeever) was really good and so much fun, and I think it deserves to be seen by more people.
What was the worst on-stage mishap you dealt with?
I played a terrible prank ages ago and swapped vodka for water in a flask that my scene partner took a giant swig of. Later in the show I could see the booze and panic in her eyes and I felt really bad. But it was also pretty funny.
What’s the weirdest/worst non-theater job you ever had?
I consider myself extraordinarily lucky that I’ve never had to wear a sandwich board. But some of my worst jobs have BEEN theater-related, do those count?
What did your parents think of your profession? If you haven’t told them yet, what do they think you do?
My dad has no background in the arts, so it’s funny that he’s the one that really fostered my love of it at an early age by making most of our father/son weekend outings trips to the theater. But my whole family has always been very supportive, even as a teenager dropping me off at the opera (when it was too obscure for anyone to want to join me). I was most probably the youngest solo season ticket holder in FGO history. And, of course, my mom was my biggest champion, and now always has the best seat in the house.
What would you do if you couldn’t be in theater?
Have a normal life.
What is your favorite line from any play or musical?
Well, to this day I still choke up at the end of Les Miz when they sing “To love another person is to see the face of God,” but that credit goes to Hugo, so since we’re in Sondheim mode I’ll say, it’s from Sunday in the Park with George, “Anything you do, let it come from you—then it will be new. Give us more to see.”
What is the one performance you attended that you’ll never forget?
There are so many – Ann Reinking’s last day in Chicago; Ragtime, a week after the Tony nominations, Zoe Caldwell in Master Class, Kristin Chenoweth’s last day in Wicked, Irene Adjan in Yours, Anne…
What’s your most unforgettable theater experience?
Seeing Hugh Jackman and Audra MacDonald in a concert of Carousel at Carnegie Hall and getting to meet and talk to them at the party after. They proved you can be at the absolute top of your profession and still be humble and real.
What do you say when someone you like is in a terrible show or does a poor job?
I can’t give up my best lines.
How do you cope when there are more people on stage than in the audience?
That doesn’t faze me. If anything, it makes me work harder to give them a good show, because I know how lame it can be to see a play in an empty theater.
What TV programs do you DVR when you’re working a show?
On my DVR right now are Downton Abbey, American Idol, Dan Le Batard, and the Olympics. And when they’re on, America Horror Story, Homeland, Mad Men and lots of Bravo junk TV.
Why doesn’t South Florida theater have a higher profile nationally?
I think in some circles there is the antiquated impression that South Florida only produces dinner theater for blue hairs. Some people think everything – not only theater – in Miami is done half-heartedly between trips to the beach and the club. I’m not sure that will ever be fully overcome. But, I do think national relevance comes from contributing to the medium in a meaningful way, and that means new work. Producing new work requires a great deal of money and a great deal of bravery, but it puts you on the map.
If you could change the Carbonells in any way, what would you do?
I would move it back to honor the best work in a theater season rather than a calendar year.
Finally, add a question you wish I had asked.
MORE? If anyone made it this far, they know more about me now than they probably ever wanted to.