Richard Biever, the Producing Artistic Director of Fuse Productions in State College, has spent his life creating theater as an actor, director, composer/lyricist and music director.
Biever is the former executive/artistic director of The State Theatre, where he founded Fuse Productions in July 2013. Now, Fuse productions is an independent theater company that brings together local actors, Penn State alumni, current students, faculty and professional actors from around the country. Fuse has produced contemporary plays like “4,000 Miles” and groundbreaking musicals like “A Chorus Line,” “Parade” and “Les Miserables,” bringing some of the finest theater in the area to audiences.
Biever recently spoke about his career, past and upcoming Fuse productions and his goals for the company’s future.
Q: What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
A: Put on the coffee, check email and social media. I spend the most time on Facebook because I enjoy all the conversations going on. I also use Facebook as the primary marketing tool for Fuse.
Q: What is a normal work day for you?
A: Lots of producing-type stuff: Reading scripts for future shows, tending to upcoming shows, which includes rehearsal schedules, costume rentals, set building schedules and purchasing materials, working with our development director on fundraising, setting up auditions, hiring musicians, licensing shows and much more.
Q: What were your childhood ambitions?
A: From the age of 8 I wanted to be an actor and pursued that to acting school in New York, right out of high school. But I was a singer and a pianist, so I ended up playing for a lot of shows and was encouraged to consider musical direction, which I did. But I was always interested in the bigger picture of the shows I worked on. I asked myself, “Why did the director make that choice?” Or, “Why did they stage it that way?” Which meant I was thinking like a director. So, I applied to the MFA Directing program at PSU in 2007, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. But I always wanted to be in the theater.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I’m a voracious reader and a political junkie, so I have a ton of books I’m reading and I watch/listen to a lot of political shows. Some of my current books are research for directing one of our upcoming shows, “Assassins,” so I’m reading up on several of the people that killed or tried to kill a U.S. president. I also read a lot of scripts and just read two absolutely terrific plays: “Disgraced,” which is about an American Muslim struggling with his identity, and “The Christians,” which is about a pastor of a megachurch who announces to his congregation that they are no longer going to believe in a literal hell. Both plays are incredibly current, thought-provoking and exciting. As for political shows, I like “The Young Turks” on YouTube and Chris Hayes on MSNBC.
Q: What is your favorite play or musical of all time and why?
A: My favorite play of all time is “All My Sons” by Arthur Miller. It’s constructed like a Greek tragedy about a good man who does something awful and isn’t able to admit it. That act has terrible consequences for his family and his community. My favorite musical is “Sunday in the Park with George” by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. It’s about the importance of creating art and the continuity of family. Seeing the Broadway production was the most moving experience I’ve had in the theater. I was lucky enough to direct it as my thesis project.
Q: Is there a new play or musical that you haven’t done that you would like to direct?
A: Many! For instance, this season I’m directing two musicals I’ve always wanted to do: “Assassins” and “My Fair Lady.” On my wish list is Sondheim’s “Follies.”
Q: Who or what has been your biggest inspiration?
A: No question about it: Stephen Sondheim. He is the artist who has influenced me the most in terms of my taste and understanding of what theater can be. Next is the director Harold Prince, who directed all of the Sondheim musicals of the 1970s and early ’80s, as well as “Evita” and “Phantom of the Opera.”
Q: What has been the proudest moment of your career?
A: Starting Fuse Productions as an independent company. Stepping out on my own was a big deal. Artistically, I’m proudest of our production of “Parade,” which was a big risk for Fuse. It is not a well-known show outside of the theatrical community, so from a ticket-sales point of view, it could have been a disaster ... The show brought out my finest work as a director, we had an incredible cast and production team and we sold out three of four performances. We all felt it was a very special experience.
Q: Is there anything extra special coming for Fuse Productions’ 2015-16 season that people should know about?
A: Well, I think each and every show, play reading and cabaret are special and are wonderful experiences. I’m particularly excited about our collaborations with Penn State: “Forum” will be directed by MFA candidate Emmy Frank, and School of Theatre director Dan Carter is directing “Seminar.” I’m so pleased that we are producing “Assassins,” as the debate over gun control reaches a fever pitch. And I’m excited to bring the recent Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Disgraced” to State College in March as part of our Contemporary Play Reading Series.
Q: What are your personal and professional goals for the future?
A: I’d like to see Fuse grow and flourish as a top-notch professional theater and eventually start producing more new works that might go on to future productions in New York City.