Jan Henderson on meeting her clown teacher
I first met Richard in Halifax in 1966 when I was 19 and working for the Neptune theatre as an acting apprentice. He was a handsome, friendly, always smiling guy who described himself as a "bohunk kid from Winnipeg ".
He was my stage manager on the one show I was performing in at the Neptune and we became friends. I cast him in a production of Lanford Wilson's "Homefree" that I was directing at Dalhousie University that fall. He was wonderful in a part that called for innocence and emotion and endless physical energy.
Years later I was outside a Toronto theatre on a summer day, working on a street theatre puppet, when Richard serendipitously found me. He had been away in Europe studying mask and clown and had come back looking to train actors. He had been looking for me but didn't know where I was living. The first thing he said to me was "Do you want to be a clown?" and without thinking I found myself saying, "I've always wanted to be a clown". I hadn't known it, but it felt true when I said it.
I took his first four workshops in Toronto and Ottawa - it was wonderful exciting work, but I had no self-confidence and a deep-seated belief that things wouldn't ever work out in my favour. I spent a lot of time despairing and crying and watching him laugh benevolently at me through all my breakdowns and breakthroughs. So I was shocked when he cast me in a clown show, and thus started me on a career that allowed me to find my "foolish" path, and my self into the bargain.
In 1975 Richard, Ian Wallace, Jan Miller, Annie Skinner, Ellen Pierce, Linda Rabin and I founded the Theatre Resource Centre together in Ottawa and ran a school and produced shows for a year. One year Richard nudged Ian and I out of the nest and assured us that we could teach clown and mask and sent us off to give a workshop for the Mummer's Theatre in Newfoundland. If it weren't for Richard I would never have had the courage to teach mask and clown, or to later start my own mask and clown company in Edmonton with Jan Miller & Robert Astle, which lasted 10 years and performed all over the world.
Now I teach at the University of Alberta in the BFA Acting programme, teach my version of the clown/mask workshop there in the summer, and I use all the principles he taught me to give corporate workshops on creativity and change and humor.
Every good thing I have in life - from my friends to my life partner, to my livelihood, to my philosophy of life, and my self-acceptance - I owe to Richard - that wonderful, big-hearted, bohunk kid from Winnipeg .
A Favourite memory
Richard had decided not to officially perform his clown, but often took late night "clown walks" wearing his hat and a nose, to get a special perspective on life. We were sharing a house in Ottawa and late one night I looked up from my desk just as his clown popped his head in my door. When I saw him, my clown heart skipped a beat - and in that moment our clowns fell in love! Fender has fallen in love tons of times in her roving travels over the years, and fallen promptly out of love the minute someone else came into view - but Richard's clown was her True Love, and that never changed. I used to tease Richard that I was the only one of his female students who hadn't fallen in love with him - but in a way I had!