Today’s TOP FIVE comes to us from Rip Russell, who has probably appeared on every stage in the Corridor. In fact, his TOP FIVE includes shows from five different theaters! And the shows go from 1983 up to just a few months ago. As impressive as his theatre resume is, anyone that know Rip knows it’s his character that truly stands out. He is a giving person, supportive and thoughtful, always with a smile and a kind word. If you haven’t had the chance to work with Rip on a show (and I’m probably talking to a small group of people based on the 80+ shows he’s done), I’d strongly encourage you to do so. In the meantime, enjoy Rip’s TOP FIVE!
Wow! It’s hard to believe it’s been 38 years since I first came to Iowa City as a theatre major from Des Moines. So many plays at virtually every level!
My first play in college was a spectacular production of West Side Story on the Hancher stage. A far cry from doing plays in the lunchroom at Urbandale High School. I’ve had the great opportunity to work with nearly all the theatre companies in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, and one thing stands out… this is an incredibly fertile theatre scene! We should all thank our lucky stars that in this community we have such high-quality talent and accepting audiences. After more than 80 productions as an actor in this region, it’s hard to pick five, but here goes and in no particular order.
5) Pippin by Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson. Iowa City Community Theatre, 1983.
My second show at ICCT, after Same Time, Next Year. To this day, this was the closest cast I’ve ever been in! I still have numerous lifelong friends from this show. I was a featured dancer (!) in this production and it was a labor of love for many of us! Exceptional talent like Paul Donnelly, Mary Johnson, Kate Carol, Tammy and Korin Guy and one of the most all-around gifted people I have ever been around…T.J.Myers! He was a true triple threat. Primarily a dancer, but he could sing and act wonderfully! We lost him WAY too soon. I’ve done perhaps 15 roles at ICCT…..Atticus Finch in Mockingbird, Juror #8 in 12 Angry Men, etc. but Pippin remains very near to me and exemplifies community theatre at it’s best!
My first of 23 plays at RT. It was an original play written by Mary Swander (now the Poet Laureate of the state of Iowa). It was the first play I was ever paid for. When Jody Hovland told me I would be getting a stipend, I had no idea what she was talking about! Imagine my surprise when I got a check ($200)!! But the real reward was to work with Jody and Ron Clark and all the hundreds of theatre artists over the years in that rich environment. You can take all the classes you want, but real learning comes from doing and Riverside Theatre was, and is, a terrific theatre lab.
3) The Crucible by Arthur Miller. The Classics at Brucemore, 2002.
After playing Alexander Dumas in The Three Musketeers at TCR in 2001, Jim Kern approached my about playing John Proctor in The Crucible at Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids. My first of four (so far) shows there. This is a magical place on hallowed ground and an absolutely gorgeous venue. The staff, crew, and all the wonderful Cedar Rapids theatre folks make this a special place for outdoor theatre. On a side note, please come see Our Town at Brucemore opening July 9th! This was my first of four Arthur Miller plays I have played the protagonist in (A View from the Bridge, The Price, and Death of a Salesman) and it is such an honor to be able to say those words!
Returning to my musical theatre roots for the first time in 10 years or so, playing King Arthur in this very silly and exceptionally fun musical was a blast! I have never boasted of my singing prowess, but in the right character role, it can be passable! This was one of those times. And, being surrounded by talents the likes of Sarah Blakeslee, Robert Kemp, Rob Keech, etc., made my job easier. There is nothing quite like a big splashy musical full of whacky characters, colorful sets, and fantastic music/musicians. Not for everyone’s taste, but I love it!
1) Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Dreamwell Theatre, 2015.
Probably the most challenging role to date. And largest! What can be said of one of the most iconic roles, and plays, in American theatre. Getting inside a character like Willy Loman can do harm if you’re not careful. It reportedly drove Philip Seymour Hoffman off the wagon (I am not a method actor, so I don’t take the roles home). Working with this group of actors – Krista Neumann, Matt Falduto, Brad Quinn, Duane Larson and the rest of the talented cast – was a once in a lifetime feat! Again, saying the words of Arthur Miller is a real honor.
I think it is a real tribute to this community that we have so many opportunities to create passionate, imaginative and thought-provoking theatre at so many different levels, from youth theatre groups through the professional level. It says a lot when a person can be president of one theatre, co-found another, and act in a third! I have been fortunate to have had many gifted directors/mentors in my day….Michael Sokoloff, Ron Clark, Jody Hovland, Rachael Lindhart, Angie Toomsen, Krista Nuemann, Janet Schlapkohl, Kehry Anson Lane just to name a few. These were my top five, but the bottom 80 or so aren’t too shabby either! Viva Teatro!
Check back soon for another TOP FIVE. And check out the previous TOP FIVES here:
Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers
Jeffrey Allen Mead
Cherryl Moon Thomason
A UI Theatre Arts graduate, Rip has performed with Working Group Theatre, Theatre Cedar Rapids, The Classics at Brucemore, SPT Theatre, City Circle Acting Co., Combined Efforts Theatre, Dreamwell Theatre, Iowa City Community Theatre, UI Theatres, UI Summer Rep, Purple Cow Dinner Theatre, Old Creamery Theatre, and over 20 productions with Riverside Theatre. Favorite roles include Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Juror #8 in “12 Angry Men”, The Duke in “Big River”, Ray in “Blackbird”, Eddie Carbone in “A View from the Bridge”, Prince Dauntless in “Once Upon a Mattress”, King Arthur in “Spamalot”, and most recently Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman”. The summer of 2015 will find Rip in a production of “Our Town” at Brucemore. Rip lives in Iowa City with his wife Janis and their parrots Dickens and Harry.