Meet Richard C. Aven: Director of ‘Go Get the Axe,’ and Veteran Cow Milker

FIG Productions founder and Go Get the Axe director Richard C. Aven has had a lifelong fascination with the arts. In addition to holding degrees in music (piano), renaissance literature, and directing, he is the co-author of Acting: Preparation, Practice and Perfor­mance with Dr. Bella Itkin, an in-depth application for actors of sensory technique to text. He has directed plays by Chekhov, Coward, Hellman, Shepard, and Shakespeare, as well as a host of new works. Basically, the guy knows what he’s doing. And he also knows how to milk a cow! Here are a few things you didn’t know about Richard, in his own words.

1. HE VIVIDLY REMEMBERS HIS VERY FIRST PIANO LESSON.

My first piano lesson was on Tuesday, March 20, 1962. My teacher was Madge Palmer. At that lesson, I played "Chopsticks" and "Heart & Soul." Both pieces are written for four hands, so I played both parts. And this means that actually, even at a very early age, I was able to prove that I could be either top or bottom. My first professional work in the theater was as a musical theater conductor. I've been the music director for well over 50 productions.

2. AT THE AGE OF 10, HE GAVE PLAYWRIGHTING A TRY.

I tried out playwriting early on. My first play was The Trial of Mighty Mouse. That was in the fifth grade and my favorite joke in the play, that I fell out of my desk laughing each time we rehearsed it and then performed it in class, was when Mighty Mouse was being asked to swear that he would tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and the judge would pound his gavel and say "There will be no swearing in this court." When you are 10 years old, this is really funny. And I think this story pretty much sums up why I am a director.

3. HE CAN MILK A COW.

My young summers were spent growing up on my uncle's farm in northern Michigan. I can drive a tractor and milk a cow. I also know how to throw a hay bale.

4. HE’S GOT SOME SERIOUS CANASTA SKILLS.

After I broke my left arm for the third time (not fun) and before I was old enough to work on my uncle's farm (actually, pretty fun), I spent summers with my cousin Jean and she taught me how to play canasta. I am also an expert hearts and pinochle player. Cards are not fun; they are for serious minded people who understand math. I tell this all the time to people on the internet who don't know how to play. They then boot me from the game. Sad to say, I know nothing about Texas Hold 'Em, but I do enjoy being held. This is why, and a lot of people already know this, I am renowned for my hugs.

5. WORKING ON GO GET THE AXE HAS BEEN THE MOST SATISFYING COLLABORATION HE HAS EVER ENJOYED WITH A PLAYWRIGHT.

The playwright/director collaboration on Go Get the Axe has been the most deeply satisfying experience I have ever enjoyed with a playwright. Working on the plays of William Shakespeare is also deeply satisfying in this area, because the more you dig into the language of a play, the more you learn about the playwright. But Shakespeare is dead, so it's not the same—although the language in Jamie's plays can be just as deep as Shakespeare’s.

What's been glorious in this process has been watching Jamie take information from the actors in all of the read-throughs (both in their readings and from comments they have made following the readings), from the designers in the design production meetings as they discuss all of the various aspects of the play, from the explorations we began in rehearsals, and throughout, from the one-on-one conversations he and I have had in order to achieve the living theater we hope to present. It's been the most collaborative process I've ever experienced. It's also been a process that has given me the privilege of getting to know Jamie in that deeply personal way that artists have of revealing themselves in the work.

Jennifer Wood