Centralia play director Rich Garrett is more than just a director—he’s a multi-talented actor, teacher and set designer. When he talks about theater, enthusiasm beams from his face. Clearly, he loves his job.
For most of the year, Rich is a school teacher at Chinook Middle School in Lacey. He teaches social studies. “I think that it’s an important age,” he says. “I have the opportunity to help [students]…be successful and…broaden their horizons.” After school, he directs plays for Chinook students. Last year, Rich directed “Schoolhouse Rock Live!” and next spring he’ll put on “Jekyll’s Hydes,” a parody of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
Rich explains how he chooses the right play. “I…do a lot of pieces that talk…about something that’s important: personal relationships, man’s relationship with nature, and understanding where we belong.”
In 2009, Rich and his wife Kris started the Theatre of Arts Discipline (T.O.A.D.), a summer program for children. At T.O.A.D. kids learn all parts of the theater world: acting, singing, dancing, stage management, set design and building. “We’ve created a collaborative program,” he says. “We pull in the parents to act as set helpers. It’s a community thing.”
Rich started his acting career at age ten. “The first show I did was a musical version of Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol.’ I was the turkey boy and got to throw Styrofoam snowballs,” he explains, brightly. Rich has done a lot of acting since then, more than 100 productions, many of them musicals. He tells me that his favorite roles are the “freaks, geeks, weirdos and the evil guys.” These parts are more appealing to him than romantic leads. “Every character, I don’t care how despicable, has to have some redeeming quality, or why would an audience care? For me, it’s fun to delve into that and make those characters unique and memorable.”
Rich also has a passion for directing and set design. He explains, “I think one of the magical things in theater is to transport someone somewhere else.” His eyes get a faraway and dreamy look. “My goal as a scene designer, not just as a director, is to give the audiences a new way to look at the space every time they come in…I want to give them a new experience.”
“Godspell,” written by John-Michael Tebelak and produced as a musical by Stephen Schwartz, opened off Broadway on May 17, 1971, and was made popular by a 1973 film. There have been several revivals of the play, but it’s never gotten away from the original look. Rich wants to change that. “The vision I have for ‘Godspell’ is something they I haven’t seen,” he says. “Everyone has this happy-go-lucky vision of ‘Godspell’ and I want to make it dark.”
He wants to make it steampunk.
Steampunk is a science fiction and fantasy subgenre where the industrial revolution took a different turn, and modern technology evolved from steam power rather than oil and gas. It’s focused on the late Victorian era, mainly in England, but also in other countries including the United States. This alternate Neo-Victorian fantasy world is filled with mad scientists and inventors who create large, elaborate machine limbs and weapons, paper-winged gliders, and brass-fitted pith helmets and goggles.
Rich has a greater purpose for transforming the gentle, clowning characters of the original “Godspell” into dark, half-mechanized figures. He sees the change as a metaphor for anti-social trends in society today. “I think that we’ve become too private,” he muses. “We’ve become too withdrawn. You can hide behind a keyboard and become the most acid-tongued person you’ve ever met.”
“I want to make people think,” he continues. “How important it is to be part of a community and care for one another as human beings.” As Jesus’ disciples forge their community in “Godspell” they’ll hang up their arms and armor on a great metal tree that overarches the stage. “By the end of it, the trunk is going to be covered with weapons and armor and…then, of course, Jesus gets crucified at the end, on that tree….” Rich’s eyes grow intent. “By the end of the show there’s this bright, hopeful lighting. And they [the disciples] come together and say…we are part of a greater good. We do have the ability to raise people up and make them feel that they’re important enough to be cared about.”
Rich feels that this is a timely metaphor for the world today.