How did you first get involved in entertainment and the performing arts?
When I turned 16, I accidentally got myself into the drama club at Christ the King, then joined a youth theater company on the Lower East Side—I was a shy kid and there weren’t many creative programs available in Queens in the 90’s. I got my training on the Lower East Side through after-school programs where I learned theater, musical theater, ballet, modern, play writing, stage managing, and directing. It was an interesting experience and gave me the confidence to explore and ask questions. It’s through those programs I was able to create lesson plans and pay it forward by eventually going on to teach such after-school programs myself. It’s been a pretty weird, creative and interesting path ever since.
How did you make the transition from being the star on stage to the man behind the camera? Do you find that one or the other comes more naturally to you?
It wasn’t really that much of a transition. I had an opportunity to explore different artistic disciplines that lead me to consider myself a storyteller. With film, I had more control over the story through editing; it was considered another intricate piece to portraying the story in my eyes. I learned from anyone who would teach me, which gave me the opportunity to travel a bit as a Producer for a CD-Rom company. I took what I learned and evolved it to directing and teaching. I still enjoy performing, but the money is the technical end.
What led you to founding your production company, REC Productions?
A leap of faith. I learned a lot working freelance for other companies, producing segments, commercials and shorts. I decided to try it on my own and have fortunately met some amazing people in the process. REC (formerly known as KREC) has had some recognition within the viral world, and is now slowly expanding outside of it. It’s small, but starting to get noticed.
From teaching for the Queens World Film Festival Youth Initiative, to clowning for birthday parties, to hosting story time and tours as an FAO Schwarz toy soldier, lots of your work has to do with kids. Did you always intend to work with children?
I have come to realize that sometimes you have to go with the flow. The performer in me loves being the Toy Soldier at FAO, where I give morning tours to children and their families (with a really bad British accent). Not long ago, I clowned for children’s parties and loved the challenge of being the juggler, magician, balloon artist, costume character, cotton candy provider, driver, party host, and clown all in one. That job was a marathon of parties that often left me covered in sweat and bruises over the course of a weekend and the five boroughs.
Teaching, on the other hand, was a way for me to reach out to kids the way I wished someone would have reached out to me. The Queens World Film Festival Youth Initiative Program has given me that opportunity since they were founded, as has the Queens Theater in the Park CASA program, which brings performing arts education to children all over Queens (including IS 235 in Astoria). I didn’t always intend on working with kids, but it happened, and I’ve learned so much and laughed so hard as a result of it.
Your work is clearly very Queens-centric, especially rooted in Astoria. Why don’t you tell us about some of your favorite projects and why Astoria features so heavily in them?
I was born and raised in Queens. I had never really explored Astoria until I moved here, and I’ve really grown to love it. I’ve met the most amazing people here in a Facebook group called “Awesome Astoria” and every day spent here feels like I’m part of a tight-knit community. Why wouldn’t I base my creative work here? I started off by producing and editing “Short Steps,” a short film which was set and shot in Astoria with writer and director Laura Aguinaga, who is also Queens native. I then met Justin Finely from Astoria Music & Arts and collaborated with their “Astoria Music Now! Between 2 Bridges” festival, where I curated the first annual film screening of the festival with hours of shorts and music videos from local filmmakers and performers. Queens World Film Festival and The Sparrow Film Project also submitted and sponsored to the event, which helped bring my work to a full circle in the place I’m now proud to call home.
How did you develop such a wide, varied taste in entertainment and become such a “jack-of-all-trades?”
Curiosity. I’m a storyteller fascinated by the many ways to tell a story. I like finding new methods and learning new disciplines. I’m also logical and realize that there is more to it than just the creative aspect: you have to learn everything and follow your own path. It’s survival—I like getting my feet dirty in everything so, at the very least, I can say I’ve tried it.
What are you currently working on?
Scoring some Comic Con tickets…
Seriously, though, I’m in the midst of directing a play my good friend Jennifer Kulaya wrote called “The Prison,” produced by Scott Lind and featuring Dustin Kahn and Mark Eugene Garcia. It will premiere October 16th/17th at the Manhattan Theatre Repertory, but is currently being rehearsed in Astoria. I’m also working with Astoria Music & Arts again to create a “Kid’s Day” event sometime in November. I might be there as my clown character, making balloon animals and juggling.
I am also currently speaking in an upcoming podcast on nerdy topics. As always, I’m looking for more work and new collaborations.
What are your plans for future projects?
I am looking to produce and film a feature that is darker and grittier to challenge myself and step away from the norm. I’m also considering trying my hand at stand-up comedy and hosting events in the future. Once again, I will be teaching film with the Queens World Film Festival Youth Initiative Program before year’s-end, and I’m also looking for more steady work in the creative field to continue my career.
To learn more about Richard and his work, visit the Facebook page for REC Productions: https://www.facebook.com/pages/REC213/154841386458
For “Short Steps” information, screenings, and festival Updates, visit the film’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ShortStepsfilm) and IMDB Page (www.imdb.com/title/tt3203454/combined). You can see the premiere of the film below:
Cristina Guarino is a writer by day, writer by night with the crippling tendonitis to show for it. She’s an Astoria native with deep roots in Queens, from her four years at Queens College to her prior stint as a full-time reporter for the Queens Gazette. She can be found at her blog, http://crgwrites.wordpress.com, or on her Twitter at http://twitter.com/crguarino.