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Rick Carver: A Life in Theatre

Friday, October 19, 2012
Rick Carver: A Life in Theatre
by Shelby Reynolds 
OU News Bureau

Whether it’s blowing fire, juggling clubs or standing on tables squirting ketchup packets acting like a drunken pirate, Rick Carver loves what he does. Carver is a professional entertainer in the variety arts. That means magic, mime, juggling, stilt walking and improvisation. “My belief is that these skills aren’t dead like a lot of people think,” he said.

For most of his life, Carver has worked toward developing his skills. This pursuit has led Carver to a life of piecing together jobs and even initially went unsupported by his father. Carver has performed in shows and Renaissance festivals across the country, marketed himself as solo performance persona “Ric Roc Zoo” and formed a theatre troupe “Delirio del’Arte” through the Michigan Renaissance Festival. Overall, “It’s a ball,” he said.

His fervor for live theater and belief in its timelessness has led him to train others in the fine art. An Oakland University alum (B.A. in theatre performance '94) Rick is back on campus teaching mime and acting for non-theatre majors as an adjunct professor. “In (class), we try to nurture a growing environment,” he said. “Experiment. Try things. Don’t let people keep you from trying things just because they’re pointing their finger at you.” He loves when his students step out of their comfort zones and “make bold choices.” One of the things that gets Carver most excited is seeing people who enjoy being in their own skin. “They’re very unique, and they’re not the people that walk around with horse blinders on their eyes just looking at the world the way that everyone is supposed to look at the world,” he said. Watch a video of Rick's acting class for non-majors here.

Not only does he encourage students to push their limits, but also, in much of what he does, Carver loves to play. Karen Sheridan, OU professor of theatre, has worked with and known Carver for more than 20 years. He once was her student, and the two went on to write and produce a show called “How Many Clowns Can You Fit in a Volkswagen?” featuring their miming and clowning skills. “He is brave and outlandish,” she said. “In terms of being on stage, he’s really a risk taker. … You can watch him all the time and you’re going to always see something new.”

In Carver’s work at the Michigan Renaissance Festival, improvisation is a typical component of his plays. He’ll tease pesky children, play with audience members and sometimes just change the script altogether. For the most part, he said, people seem to love it. “He’s really good at knowing how to engage people,” Sheridan said. “And he does it in real life as well as on stage. He’s just great. He’s Rick Carver.”

“When I was a young kid, I was very energetic,” Carver said. “I had a very active imagination and pretty soon I started playing with the characters that were around me.” And from early on, Carver was taking objects and using them for something that they weren’t. In his world, bar stools became rocket ships and basements became late 1800s saloons. He discovered the reaches of his physical abilities, such as stretching his foot behind his head. Around the age of 13 or 14, Rick attended his first live magic show. “It was extremely exciting to me,” he recalled. Soon after Carver started performing impromptu magic tricks in front of his nieces and nephews. Carver’s niece bought him a magic kit for Christmas, and soon after he met a friend who would join him in his endeavors. They experimented with magic and even music for a while. Each of these spurts of interest, he said, compelled him toward improvisation, physical comedy and the variety arts. But as Carver discovered his love for and capabilities in entertainment, there was one person in his life who was not too sure about the outcome.

Rick's father Norman Carver had grown up in Maine during the Great Depression, working at logging camps from age 11. He had been laboring all his life to provide for his family and even hocked his watch to buy milk for them. To see his son bounce from interest to interest, eventually landing as a theatre major at a Michigan university, was a bit too much to bear. “At one point, dad said to me, ‘I just don’t see where this is going for you. I don’t see how this is going to help you get a job or anything. So you either need to change your major or you need to find another way to pay for your schooling.’ ” Carver was devastated. He had no other way to pay for tuition.

However he soon found a job at General Motors, where his father was employed. Twelve-hour days, seven days a week. Lots of money but no time for school. One day, a co-worker informed Carver that GM would pay for his schooling as long as it was going toward a degree of any sort. Ecstatic, he went back to school. He even acquired a job working at the Renaissance festival and found success with his performances. And his dad came to one of those shows. “I was on stilts … trying to get people into the show,” Carver said, “My dad’s there with the video camera, and at one point he put down the camera.”

“You really enjoy doing this, don’t you?” his father asked.

“Yeah, I really do.”

“Well this is something that I would never be able to do, but if you really want to do this, I’m behind you 100 percent,” his father replied.

“And still to this point it chokes me up.” Rick Carver said. “The sudden realization that, my dad who’s been doing all these jobs all his life … finally acknowledged that this is what I do, this is how I make my living. And that just meant so much to me.”

Photo of Rick Carver teaching his OU acting class by Shelby Reynolds. Video link of the class by Shelby Reynolds.

Photo of Rick Carver playing with fire courtesy of Dove Photography.

This article originally appeared on  a website that features work from Oakland University journalism students who write about news in metro Detroit.

Shelby Reynolds is a senior at Oakland University, majoring in journalism with minors in graphic design and theatre.