As the host of such television programmes as Man v. Food and ITV’s BBQ Champ, Adam Richman is known better for his work on screen — and in the kitchen — than in theatre. But with a degree from the Yale School of Drama and experience working at such US theatres as Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Cherry Lane Theatre, Richman is no stranger to the stage. Now, he’s returning to the theatre as a co-producer of Stalking the Bogeyman at Southwark Playhouse. The play, which originally debuted in New York in 2014, is based on journalist David Holthouse’s real-life childhood experience with sexual abuse, which was first recounted in an article for the weekly paper Westword and on the radio programme This American Life. We spoke with Richman to learn more about his involvement with the play, tackling difficult topics through theatre, and — of course — his top London food picks.
How did you initially get involved with this production?
Through Markus Potter, who adapted the script and directed it both in New York and London. He is the single biggest catalyst behind Stalking the Bogeyman, other than David Holthouse, obviously, whose story this is. Markus and I were in an actor training program at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis the summer before our final year of graduate school. Markus was the lone student from Columbia, and I was the only student from Yale Drama, so they partnered us as roommates. Markus eventually ended up directing me in a production at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York, and I first got to see his incredible skill and innate talent for directing.
I remember when Markus first heard David on NPR and how excited he was, so when he approached me with the idea of it becoming a dramatic piece with him directing, I was happy there was an opportunity for me to be involved as a producer. Being that I had only been producing television for the past few years, I saw this as a great opportunity to branch out and return to my roots in theatre.
What first attracted you to the piece?
Ever since the Sandusky trial with the abuse that occurred at Penn State here in the US, I became passionate about protecting the welfare of children and supporting organisations that help protect and support victims of abuse. I began working with RAINN and I saw all the good they do. I also sadly learned of the scope of this awful crime, the frequency with which it is committed, and how all too often assailants manage to escape unscathed because of their victims’ silence. When Markus shared the NPR piece with me, and later the script, I realised this was a great way to merge an art form I am passionate about with a cause I am passionate about.
The true story that Stalking the Bogeyman is based on first appeared as a written article, and then on This American Life. What do you think is the benefit of adapting it for the stage? How does theatre help to tell this story in a way that the other mediums cannot?
I think the sense of remove, the sense of ‘I am watching a performance, not real life’, gives people a bit of a safe distance to watch themes, subject matter or situations that might otherwise make them uncomfortable. And also, the medium of theatre allows you to make certain real-life situations rather stylised. Clearly in a situation like the one depicted in our play, wherein a young boy is savagely sexually abused, you certainly never want to see it, and to reenact it would be sensationalistic bordering on vulgar, in my opinion.
But because we have the very powerful medium of live theatre, a strong script, the gravity of the words themselves, coupled with Gerard [McCarthy]’s great acting and the intimacy of the space itself — you can fully grasp the horror and enormity of the assault, though you never have to see it. That’s probably what makes it all the more harrowing: your mind is left to fill in the awful blanks. No matter how much people may care, sitting down to a lecture about a cause can sometimes be a tedious, almost clinical affair. But if you are crafting a piece of dramatic writing with a beginning, middle and end, you can take people on the journey and force them to confront some of the great societal questions and ills of the modern world.
What would you like audiences to come away with after seeing this production?
If any in the audience are affected by this tragedy, and have been silent and carried this painful burden for a long time, I hope it gives them courage to speak out and speak up. Plus, we have partnered with many UK abuse survivor support entities to be a resource for those who may be dealing with demons of abuse in their own lives. Information on these organisations exist on the official play website. I would hope it gives people a new perspective on not only the surprising frequency with which children are abused, but an eye-opening and enlightening look at the real effects of abuse on the life of an individual, as well as the capacity to forgive.
Can you talk a bit about what your role entails as a producer? How does producing in the theatre compare to the work you’ve done as a television producer?
Because Markus knows that I do have a background in theatre, he wanted real involvement from me and I did not want it to be just a matter of hubris — ‘TV guy writes check, pretends to be producer’. I went over script changes and line additions with him — we even worked on the script together on the Eurostar while heading to Paris for a Euro 2016 match! I also watched some rehearsals and run-throughs and would give performance and structure notes to Markus, as well as potential blocking or wardrobe changes. But it also falls to me to work on the marketing of the show, and the nuts and bolts of putting the show up. The space that the show was performed in can get quite hot and it was becoming oppressive for our cast as much as the audience. So yes, one of my producer duties was to research and rent quiet air-con units for the space!
As an executive producer on television, you can control content, and you have the luxury of editing and altering in post-production after the initial performance has been recorded. In live theatre, the best you can do is provide a skeleton and a structure, and then trust you have given your cast and your design team adequate support and guidance to do their jobs to the fullest.It is similar across both theatre and film to make sure you have grasped the macro/overall view of what you were trying to communicate and present a cohesive vision throughout. With something that is recorded you can edit it several times and in several ways, more or less right up until the public sees it televised, but with theatre, once you hit opening night, it’s off to the races. I think the producer needs to have an eye towards the grave and not lose sight of putting on a production while focusing on the artistic merit of it.
Obviously you’re best known for your work in television, but you have training and experience in theatre as well. What sorts of theatre are you most attracted to (whether as a producer or audience member)?
Like most in the US, I have recently been obsessed with the musical Hamilton, and I deeply hope for the opportunity to audition for it in London. Yes, really! I don’t usually gravitate towards musicals, though I have done them, but I feel that it is a show that defies the genre with its scope, intelligence and subject matter.
I don’t necessarily enjoy theatre that is ‘arty’ for its own sake. As someone who has studied with Anne Bogart, and John Jory at Actors Theatre of Louisville, not to mention Japanese Noh theatre — I love shows that lend themselves to moving along with great pace and a real live-wire energy. I love a well-crafted stage picture and when the staging of the moment brilliantly underlines the dramatic underpinnings of that moment. I love pieces with multiple characters that the audience might root for or identify with and have different viewpoints that they agree with, such that the discussion about the play and its ideas continues long after the curtain has fallen.
Since we would be remiss to not at least mention food — what’s your favourite place to eat when you’re in London? Do you have any favourite British foods?
There are so many I love! I love the Providores on Marylebone High Street, The Ribman, Street Feast in Dalston Yards, Bodeans, Seashell of Lisson Grove, Stax, Bar Shu, Bao, Smokehouse, Breddo’s Tacos, Tayyab’s, The Delaunay, Manna, Chotto Matte, Duck & Waffle, The Wilmington, Peckham Pastrami . . . I could go on for hours . . .
I love good fish and chips, can appreciate an afternoon tea, love a great kebab from Edgeware Road, Pie & Mash from Manze’s, Fried Chicken at Chick King in Tottenham, love a full English, Yorkshire pudding, Banoffee Pie, Monster Munch, Quavers, Lion Bars . . . Man, I’m getting hungry . . .