from Intern to artist
D. Wambui Richardson, Camp CS Teaching Artist
D. Wambui Richardson was an intern at Baltimore Center Stage in 2000. Now, he is a full-fledged teaching artist at Camp Center Stage. He is also a freelance director and serves as the Executive Director of Academies for the National Academy Foundation School of Baltimore.
“Through his improv classes, Wambui guides the students through the process of creating their own pieces and then refining them for performance,” said Baltimore Center Stage Education Coordinator Kristina Szilagyi. “He has an incredible knack for helping young people find their voices while creating a fun, supportive, and playful atmosphere with high expectations for the young artists.”
We asked Richardson to share some of his theater experiences with us. Here’s what he had to say.
Tell us about what you teach at Camp CS.
I teach Improvisational Theater. Through the lens of improv, I introduce students to principles of acting, ensemble building, creative writing, storyboarding, and devised theater.
I begin every camp session by telling the students the following: “Throughout the school year you are told what to think, what to read, what to say, what to wear, how to write. In this class you are creating original work in the hope of presenting to an audience and the world what YOU want, what YOU believe, what YOU have to say. There is tremendous power on the stage, and I invite you to use it.”
It is both an honor and pleasure to aid students in finding not only their voice but also what they have to say with it.
Did you go to anything like Camp CS as a young person that sparked your love of theater?
I am a native of New Orleans, where the second language is music. So yes, theater and the arts have always been a part of my foundation. Unfortunately, I was never in a formal drama camp growing up, but through church and school, I was able to get the fix I needed.
At the age of 10, my mother passed away. Her departure rocked me to my very foundation. It was the Arts that saved my life. For almost a year I was mute, depressed, and angry with the world. Then I saw the musical Into the Woods on Public Television, and my life changed. Shortly after, I wrote my first play and have been writing, directing, and performing ever since.
What is it like to watch the students grow in confidence throughout the two-week session?
As a teaching artist, one of my greatest joys is observing the transformation of my students in the two-week summer sessions. Often, on the first day students are quiet and reserved. They are in a room filled with students from other schools and searching for a familiar face. They are afraid to take artistic chances for fear of embarrassment or judgment, and they are wondering to themselves, “What is improv, and will I be good at it?”
But by the second day, they are completely hooked. They come in brimming over with ideas and casting each other in their original work. They have tapped into their creative energy and found themselves in a room with likeminded “theater geeks” that just want to have fun and do something creative. It always amazes me what they are able to create in just 10 sessions.
You used to be an intern at Baltimore Center Stage, and now you’re one of the theater’s Teaching Artists. How did your time as an intern influence your future as an artist?
I originally arrived as the sound intern. However, after the Education Department lost its intern, I began double dipping. Being an intern in the Education Department not only gave me my passion for educational theater, but also empowered me to become a director.
It is my belief that theater not only has a healing power, but also has the ability to bring people of different mindsets together for the shared exploration of the human condition. During my time as an intern, I worked with the TNG (Theatre for the Next Generation) Program. Similar to Center Stage's Encounter Program, it brought students of different backgrounds together in the spirit of creating relevant theater for youth and young adults. In working together, the acting ensemble was able to see that they had more in common than not. Had it not been for my internship with Baltimore Center Stage, I wouldn’t be the artist I am today.