Rich Swingle in an incredibly prolific actor who’s performed or taught in 27 countries and in hundreds of venues. He’s best known for his one-man performances but has quickly amassed an impressive 17 film credits including Indescribable, The Screenwriters, In His Steps, Pawn’s Move, Polycarp, and Beyond the Mask.
When did you first discover a passion for acting?
I played Mr. Beaver in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in 4th grade. I was totally hooked. Later that year I performed the role of an alien that came to the earth to see the birth of Jesus Christ. I used my dad’s crop dusting helmet. He warned me to rub a gel on the visor so it wouldn’t steam up. I forgot, and I forgot my lines. I hadn’t bothered memorizing them since I had them taped to my space ship’s console! So little Ricky learned to improvise. In high school our youth pastor had us performing in all sorts of crazy sketches and even leading whole worship services. When the US relationship to Lybia was strained in the mid-80s I interrupted the service (not one we were running) as Col. Rikmar Swingdafi and kidnapped our pastor. We held him ransom for X number of canned goods to feed the poor. We all hung out at a pool where we waited for them to show up.
How did you get involved in doing one-man plays?
The first one-man plays I ever saw were performed by Curt Cloninger at my college, now George Fox University. One was Red Letter Edition in which he performed the role of Jesus, and as the title implied, he only spoke the words of Jesus. The other, God Views, was a mix of different characters, indicating how we can make God in our image: God in the box, God as the Grandpa, God the Mechanic, etc. I’d been doing impersonations and characters since I could remember, and had honed that skill in our youth group dramas. Something clicked inside of me. I knew I could do that. When I was trying to decide whether or not to move to New York City I saw Roger Nelson do The Man from Aldersgate, about John Wesley. It was one of those confirmations I needed to make the move. Within a year Roger performed his other one-man play, The Confession of St. Patrick, in NYC, and he let me trail him. I asked all sorts of questions, and about a year later I quit my day job, and since July of 1995 I haven’t accepted work that wasn’t in some way linked to the performing arts or applied theatre.
In 2006 Roger and I rented an Off-Broadway theatre and performed our plays back-to-back. He did his Wesley piece, and I did Beyond the Chariots, the rest of the Chariots of Fire story from the perspective of Eric Liddell. Since the symbol of the Methodist Church Wesley founded is a flame, we called the collaboration “Fire Off-Broadway.”Later I got to teach with Curt Cloninger on a couple of occasions, and was able to perform with him in the upcoming film, Polycarp.
Tell us about your performing arts outreach to the Olympics.
In 2004 Christi Bennett preached at our church, and she used the story of Eric Liddell as a “running” illustration throughout the sermon. I’d visited The Eric Liddell Centre in Edinburgh in 2000, and Eric’s niece, Dr. Peggy Judge, showed me around and answered questions. I hadn’t done a thing with that research, and I got to thinking that I might have the play ready for the Athens Olympics. Nope. But I did have an early draft and Roger Nelson opened the door for me to perform it in LA during a Christians in Theatre Arts conference. I got some great feedback, and it was polished by the time my bride had business in Hong Kong. I tagged along, and my friend from college, Brian Van Tassel, agreed to host a performance of the play at the International Christian School where he served as an administrator. While I was there he asked if I might want to stage the play at a church where his friend was a youth pastor. I jumped at the chance, and there, on the 27th floor, overlooking Hong Kong Harbor, I was warming up when the secretary walked through: “I hope Jamie can see this.” I smiled and kept warming up. She could tell I didn’t have a clue, so she added, “He was in the internment camp with Eric Liddell.” Now she had my attention. “Oh, but Jamie’s hardly ever here. He’s always off somewhere around the world speaking. He’s the great-grandson of Hudson Taylor.” He was there, and after the play he walked up, and without introducing himself said, “It was softball, we didn’t have enough room to play baseball.” He invited me into his home and helped make other adjustments to the play, and put us in touch with people who opened the doors to performances during the Beijing Olympics. We had translation slides in Traditional Chinese, and the night before we crossed the border we translated them into Simplified characters and added the Korean translation that was done after I met a man on an airplane! We had North Koreans in attendance at one of our performances.
We brought the play to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics, and later in 2010 to Singapore for the inaugural Youth Olympics, where I performed it at the Singapore Expo for 5700.
During the two weeks of the 2012 Olympics I performed in Puerto Rico, Romania (where Beyond the Chariots was translated to Hungarian), and London (where the play was translated into Tamil). We spoke to people from 30 nations.
During the Sochi Olympics we were unable to secure a venue for the play, but we took a team of performing artists and we performed in the Olympic Park, downtown Sochi, and in Roza Hooter, at the base of the mountain sports. You can see our performance and sign up for the team we’re taking to Rio for the 2016 Olympics at http://www.RichDrama.com/Rio .
How did you transition from stage acting to film acting?
I happened to notice a casting call for A Christmas Snow on Facebook. On Christmas Eve of 2009 I got the call that I was the only one cast through Facebook. The others were found through more traditional casting channels. That helped get the ball rolling, and now it’s been 17 and I’m cast in two that are in pre-production.
In the Beginner’s Bible video series, how did you pull off 20 different characters?
They were over six different videos, and some of them were minor characters, but I still tapped into the range I’d been honing since I was a boy. The most fun juxtaposition was doing Adam and the Serpent in The Creation. You can see my reel from the project and the character list at http://www.RichDrama.com/BeginnersBible .
What has been your most memorable role (stage or film)?
That’s really tough since I’ve really loved many of the characters real and fictional that I’ve had the privilege of portraying, but the one that popped into my head was playing Fredrick Lehman in Indescribable. It was the first major role I’d had in film, and it was also the first time Joyce, my bride, got to play my screen bride. We’ve now done that four times. When Joyce and I had our pre-engagement counseling session (which we highly recommend!) we were drilled with all the questions you just don’t necessarily talk about while getting to know one another. It was going so well that when he asked us how many children we wanted I jokingly spouted: “Twelve!” Joyce missed the jokingly part and nearly fell out of her chair. We never had any of our own, but we’ve now had 13 screen children. I mentioned that to the host of a film series, and he wonders if that’s some kind of a record. I don’t know how you’d go about figuring that out, but I certainly can’t think of a couple that has us beat.
What would be your dream role?
I would love to play Eric Liddell in a major motion picture. I just submitted for a production in China, but I know they’re looking for a major celebrity.
I sense a call to turn my first feature-length one-man play, A Clear Leading) into a feature-length film, so in a sense I’ll be a part of creating a dream role in answer to that calling.
When you teach workshops, what is the most valuable advice that you give your students?
My masters thesis was on sociodrama, so I think my greatest contribution is sharing how I’ve seen the techniques of sociodrama help me as an actor. There’s a scene in Indescribable, which you can see on my reel, in which Joyce and I play Mr. and Mrs. Lehman weeping at some sad news. Joyce and I mixed some sociodrama and method techniques to get ourselves to such a state of grief that all our screen children were weeping, down to the five-year-old, who had his arms wrapped around my leg and looked up at me with tears streaming down his cheeks.
A major emphasis in sociodrama is de-roling, so as soon as the scene was wrapped I helped the other actors de-role, and Joyce, a trained counselor, talked them through that process as well.
It’s premature to start a crowd-funding platform for our film, but we’d love to have people praying. You can sign up for updates on that and our other world-wide adventures at http://www.RichDrama.com/Updates .
I’m excited to see that Polycarp was chosen for the Christian Worldview Film Festival, where I’ll be teaching during their Guild:
There are two films in which I perform that are coming to theaters this year: http://www.RichDrama.com/ConfessionsOfAProdigalSon , and http://www.RichDrama.com/BeyondTheMask .