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Rick Snyder, the actor's director

'I never kinda said, "I'll be an actor." One thing just kind of led to another.'


Snyder, 60, is a Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member with an expanding career as a director.

I sort of wandered into an audition in high school, probably at my mother's prompting, and did a pantomime of a guy who's at a restaurant and went to pay the check and didn't have his wallet. I got done with this and the theater director was just staring at me. It kind of took off from there. I started getting cast in stuff.

I got a scholarship to go to Illinois State for theater—and avoided Vietnam. That’s where I met some of the Steppenwolf people, you know, Rondi [Reed], Fran [Guinan], Terry Kinney. I never kinda said, "I’ll be an actor." One thing just kind of led to another.

I had people mentoring me while I was at Illinois State. And then I got out and was really kind of sick of theater and dropped out for a couple years. Then Terry and those guys were starting this little theater company up in Highland Park, and they approached me about joining in '74, '75. And of course at that time I was too busy making $80 a week doing dinner theater, so I turned them down.

The day I got married, John Malkovich cast me in my first Equity show, which was The Rear Column at Northlight. Then I got a call to come down late at night into the city ’cause they’d lost a cast member from Balm in Gilead, and John called me in to read a small part. I went in there about 11 at night and thought,, "What am I getting myself into?" I walked into the theater and there was all this screaming and running around, and I read for John and he cast me. It actually turned out to be, just as a spectator, one of the most amazing pieces of theater I've been involved in.

Then the Steppenwolf thing solidified. Word has it I was one of the first guys they called to join the company. That would have been '83. That's about the time my first boy was born. So that's kind of my journey.

For the last ten years I've been trying to steer my career more [toward directing]. After 30 or 40 years of acting I was starting to get bored. I was tired of the hours. And I've always wanted to direct. I really love it. I've been told, and I hope it's true, that I tend to be a little more of an actor's director. I can communicate with them in ways that maybe someone who's not an actor can't. I enjoy watching an actor grow in the performance and hopefully being part of that process with them. I like to come in and work intently on something, have fun and really dig into it, and then move on to something else.

I learned a lot about acting for maybe the first time by watching some of the incredibly talented people at Steppenwolf. Hopefully that rubbed off on me a bit. The flip side is that I've sometimes wondered where my path would have gone without that. But I think I certainly became stronger and better as an actor because of the people I was involved with. —As told to Tony Adler

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