That deep-digging writer Joyce Carol Oates wrote that the job of an actor is "to seduce you." I would say "to transport you." However, I wouldn't deny anyone a pleasurable seduction.
That would make Richard Baird a seducer in costume. He's a lunch-pail actor. A successful one. (I think maybe that's redundant, because one goes with the other. Success requires the hard work that a lunch pail symbolizes.)
Baird's a strapping San Diegan who could pass for a cop instead of an actor, which is just trading one stereotype for another. He has been blessed with the deep-tone pipes of Gregory Peck, and he has a full head of thick hair - no small thing for a 35-year-old in his business.
Of course, when an actor looks like that, he's in danger of type-casting, a form of pigeonholing. Baird overcomes it with versatility. For example, in the stage version of "The Madness of King George," he played a fop.
(Don't know that word? Hmmmm ... well, think coxcomb or popinjay. Still not? Well, think Navy SEAL, then think the opposite.)
Baird's a friendly man, but intense. Certainly not gushing. He's a put-together, organized guy to whom I surmise you could safely lend money. If you saw him standing alone, you probably wouldn't be inclined to approach. He has a kind of villainous stache and goatee that plays a supporting role to that image. But you never know: having a beer with other actors, he might turn Falstaffian.
Baird became smitten by drama at Patrick Henry High School to the extent of forgoing college to go right to work professionally. And huge shock: He was given adult roles while still a teenager. Normally, that takes much longer.
His reaction to his first job was, "They're gonna pay me! They're actually gonna pay me!"
He had decided college would cost him a lot of auditions, and cost a lot of debt. His heart was on the stage, not in the classroom, so why not go for it?
I ask: Your whole world is a stage, isn't it, Richard? I bet you can't order a Jumbo Jack without acting it out. I mean, you're in the moment of that Jumbo Jack.
"Oh, absolutely, uh-huh. I know what you mean."
You love the spoken word, don't you? You're just ... It's almost orgasmic, isn't it?
"Absolutely, yeah. I would say that, yeah. Yeah. I love the English language. I absolutely love it."
(He has no fear of the absolute.)
At the time of this interview, he was finishing a run playing a screwed-up drunk in Ibsen's gloomy "Hedda Gabler" at the North Coast Rep. Just before that he was a noble backwoodsman in a Faulkner adaptation, "Way Downriver." Next, he'll be in "Disgraced" at the San Diego Rep, to open in October.
Anyone so gut-level, life-invested in theater has to love every piece and person of it, from ticket-takers to stage hands to actors - especially actors.
"Oh, yes. I love actors. They know what's going on in the world, and they care about it. They are generous and fiercely intelligent, the best ones are. I think it's a noble profession. I really do. We're storytellers."
Baird returned to San Diego in 2014 after six years performing with the Chicago Shakespeare Company and around the country in varied roles. No creative person can intensely engage in an activity without wanting to put a personal stamp on it. Baird's creativity bubbles like an old-time percolator.
"Ideas? God, there are thousands that pop into mind when you ask that."
He has no desire to suffer for his art. It's also a job. He works as regularly as any actor in San Diego. He does voice-overs and thinks about TV and film but doesn't yearn to run on that treadmill.
"It interests me, of course, but it's never called to me the way the theater has. I am a theater rat and very happily a theater rat."
He's a member of Actors Equity and values the fair pay and security that union card is meant to deliver.
"It means I can have a pension. It means they won't bury me in an unmarked grave, and it means I can live like other people. There is this idea of a lot of actors being starving artists and sitting around wondering when they'll get a break. They do exist, but they're not the only ones who do that."
Just as starving accountants exist.
"Right, exactly. I do well. I can take trips, and I can go out to dinner. I eat. I like food with my meals."
He's also a striving impresario, if I'm not too loose with the word. He was the moving force in 2001 in creating a theatrical company named Poor Players. He was 20. He hadn't even been using a razor that long.
"I was practically living in this 100-seat theater on Adams Avenue, which is where I was producing a lot for Poor Players.
"It's now a coffeehouse, but I played ‘Hamlet' and ‘Macbeth' and a lot of things in that theater."
He also answered the phones, sold tickets and dealt with the plumbing. He remembers working on a script with a plunger in his hand. It was one of those deals where if he didn't show up, pretty soon no one else would, either.
"I vividly remember sleeping on a couch and eating ramen just about every meal. As much as I loved some of the work and some of the memories of that time, I would not go back."
Poor Players was a great start, but he calls it a "garage band." In 2014, better known and wiser, he was a principal in forming the New Fortune Theatre Company, named after a theater in Eliza-
bethan London. Baird is artistic director and his heart-partner, Amanda Schaar, is managing director.
"We reorganized because money can beget money and ‘poor players' doesn't really sound like an investment that people want to make.
"With New Fortune, I would like to bring classics back in a way that can excite not only an older audience, but a younger one, too."
New Fortune is performing at theaters that have dark time and are open to reasonable rent. Eventually, the troupe would like a theatre where it could hang its own marquee.
The New Fortune players will give a public reading in street clothes of "Troilus and Cressida" on July 25 at the 10th Avenue Studio of the Arts.
To Baird, Shakespeare is a love that will never grow stale. He sees the Bard as speaking across the centuries, right up to today.
"He does, absolutely. There's a scene in ‘Henry V' where Henry is disguised and walking amongst his soldiers, listening to find out what they're thinking. He hears one say, ‘If the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make.' "
Pick your politician, right?
Remember as a kid how the jocks said acting was for sissies? Well ...
Baird says, "The first time I played Macbeth, the actor playing Macduff accidentally hit a curtain when he was swinging his sword, and instead of stopping, he reswung." Baird absently touches his head. "If I were to cut my hair short, you would still see a big scar from that broadsword."
I assumed those swords were plastic.
"No. They're dulled down, but you can still get very hurt. I remember going backstage, and the actresses playing the witches looked at me and one said, ‘Richard, Richard, you're covered in blood!' I said, ‘I know that,' because I had all this fake blood on me from all the people I'd ‘killed' earlier. But then I started feeling woozy, but I went out and bowed. When I returned backstage, I just face-planted. I woke up on a gurney.
"Then, a couple years later I was in ‘Romeo and Juliet' and they wanted to have this Errol Flynn-type fight up a flight of stairs. At one point, (the other actor) bounces me off of a wall that's behind us. Well, this is two and a half stories off the ground floor backstage, and the wall is thin plywood, and they hadn't checked to make sure it was secure. It was just one of those mistakes.
"We went through the wall. I fell two and a half stories. I played the first two weeks of that show with an eye patch. I still have some pain from that."
Did you get a money settlement?
"Because I didn't want to shut the theater down."
If acting were a factory job, every morning at 6, Richard Baird would be reliably trudging past the gate carrying his lunch pail. He'd always volunteer for overtime. He'd be humming on the assembly line, just glad to be working.
Someone once said that acting is hiding in plain sight. That's baloney. You, the actor, may wear false whiskers or pompadour hair and a billowing gown, but the audience knows it's really you, and you know it's really you. However, if you perform well, and as you bow to the applause, you will think: This is the real me.
Fred Dickey's home page is freddickey.net. He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at [email protected]