Betsy Richard is making a gentle entrance onto Center Stage.
She says she wants to get better acquainted with the local acting community — and audiences — before charting her course.
But people who attend plays at Lower Columbia College will notice some changes with Richard’s first production, “Almost, Maine.”
For one thing, Richard is running shows for two weekends rather than three, as was done by former director Don Correll. Richard said she’d rather have fewer shows with larger audiences — and make the schedule easier on her student actors. She also is adding a Sunday matinee in hopes of attracting senior citizens who don’t like to go out at night.
Richard is the first new drama instructor at LCC in 39 years. Correll retired last spring.
“I have big shoes to fill,” Richard said. “Don’s a legend and I appreciate that. I’m not here to tell everybody what they need to have. I’m here to listen. I’m a theater person and an educator. I’m passionate about both of those.”
And, it’s a chance to practice her passion near her hometown of Portland.
Richard, who went to college in New York, has a master’s degree in drama and theater from Eastern Michigan University. She spent two years in an acting program at New York’s National Shakespeare Conservatory.
Asked what some of her most memorable roles have been as an actor, she replied, “When I could get hired. The people who aren’t willing to do the small parts don’t wind up being actors.”
Richard’s career included runs on the faculty at Portland Community College and Portland’s Concordia College. She taught at Lewis and Clark College and Portland State University. She also was the director of education and outreach for the Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland.
Richard served as a lecturer in theater, interpretation and dance for more than 10 years at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich., before she moved back to Portland about a year ago.
She jumped at the chance to come to LCC.
“I wanted to be back at a community college again,” Richard said, because they cater to a wider demographic range of students than did Central Michigan, which isn’t near a big city.
Her goals at LCC include attracting more actors and audiences.
“We have a fantastic facility. I want to have more people use it,” she said. In recent years, total attendance at LCC plays has ranged from 400 to 450, spread out over 10 performances.
She’d love to direct Shakespeare, though she’s still gauging what plays she can do with the available actors. She has to weigh what audiences are familiar with against introducing them to new plays.
“When you’re in an educational environment, it’s your job to educate your audience, not just your students,” she said.
Correll didn’t do many musicals over the years, and Richard said she has discussed collaborating on them with Gina Challed, LCC’s vocal instructor.
“Musicals take a tremendous amount of energy,” Richard said. “We’ll see how things go.”
Wyatt Hazel, an LCC drama student in “Almost, Maine,” said Richard is “so nice and great to work with. She’s not a yeller.”
“She’s very down-to-earth and organic in her directing style,” said Cody Swires, who also is in the cast. “She really gets into character work.”
Though she has more experience working in proscenium theaters, with seats on one side of the stage, Richard said she’s looking forward to directing at Center Stage, which has seats on three sides of the actors.
She’s open to doing shows in the larger Wollenberg Auditorium in the Rose Center for the Performing Arts, “when I start selling out this space,” she said.