The Theater Resource Centre

Richard Pochinko

Richard Pochinko is a man who touched many lives in many very different ways. There is historical information about him but his impact on the communities he interacted with contains his more important history. Thus it is through the impressions of those who knew him that we can now come to appreciate the pioneering work of this remarkable man. Early in her career, Sue Morrison was the protégé of Richard, and was chosen to develop and add multiple new dimensions to his original Clown Through Mask work.

A Collective Tribute to Richard Pochinko

Richard Pochinko was raised on a farm in Lockport, Manitoba, the youngest of three brothers and two sisters. His father died when he was eight months old. His mother and his eldest brother and sister maintained the household. It was as if he had two mothers. When he was a child, he would go in the barn and make miniature stages and circuses, and fill them with tiny actors and performers.

He studied clown technique with Lecoq in Paris, but found the European tradition authoritarian and confirming. Back in North America, on the West Coast, he came to know the remarkable American Indian Clown, Jonsmith, who taught him many things from the Native tradition that few people, particularly non-Indians, know. These two traditions came together to form the Pochinko technique. At the core of this approach is the idea that if we can face all the directions of ourselves, North, South, East, West, Up, Down, we can only laugh - at the beauty and wonder that is in us.

Richard first started to teach these ideas at the National Arts Centre, but, after a while, he and Annie Skinner decided to set up a studio where they could do things their own way. And so the Theatre Resource Centre was born, with a dual mandate: to teach and to develop new work. Now, under artistic director Ian Walllace, the TRC has celebrated its sixteenth year. Its influence has been felt throughout Canadian theatre.

As well as being a teacher, for which he was best known, Richard was a very fine director. Part of the reason that this less known is that he gave so freely, and rarely took complete credit for the productions that he worked on. Many actors and performers would come to him to help develop their work, bringing what was often only the germ of an idea. Richard would pull the work out of them, shape it, help design it, often light and stage manage it and direct it in workshops. Then, in many cases, he would say, "There. I've done what I can. It's yours now." And he would go on to the next new project.

He arrived in Quebec at a critical and exciting cultural and political time. And he dove into his new world with enthusiasm. He discovered a new identity. It was Michel Tremblay's era. Richard contributed to the birth of a new Montreal theatre. With the help of his best friend Dominique Fecteau and a team of that ilk, he transformed an old, decrepit bar near St-Laurent street into a cabaret-theatre. It's name? "Les Foufounes Electriques." There he held the Montreal premiere of the play Nion, The Birth of a Clown. To this day, the location still has the reputation for being avant-garde.

Richard was wise, perceptive, and seer. He was able to differentiate between bilingualism and biculturalism, between nationalism and universality. He adopted the Quebecois culture by offering workshops in French at Linda Mancini's studio among others. If the language got in the way, he resorted to mime. He touched so many among us there.

His boundless energy, so contagious, saved many a life.

Gabriel Manseau and Ron Weihs

On April 29 of the year Richard was dying, not knowing how to communicated to Richard my distress and helplessness, I said, "Richard, I am drowning. It is dark and there is a storm. I don't see an island on the horizon. I am scared." Richard replied, "Its easy, Gabriel. All you have to do is create your own island." His smile was universal. He helped us climb out of the abyss of hopelessness toward a new confidence.

Gabriel Manseau

The first thing about Richard that I remember is the light. Purely and simply the space between and around us was filled with light. For me our meeting was an awakening, and instantaneous recognition of a light brother. From then on I was immersed in a world of emotions, of love and tears, and laughter, and the theatre. The theatre. That was Richard's life and yet his vision went on beyond.

Once Richard spoke in his sleep of being in a spaceship along with others, some that we knew, some we had yet to meet. As we flew over the earth we saw people. at first he thought we were waving. As we came closer, he gasped, "No, they're trying to get out, they're all inside glass jars struggling to get out. Our mission is to release them, to break down the glass and let them free."

This became Richard's work: helping people to release themselves. He freed us to face our essential uniqueness and encouraged us to love and celebrate it. He called it the clown.

Ian Wallace ( Artistic Director, TRC)

The community of Native actors working in the Toronto area today received a big boost from Mr. Pochinko, not only in terms of their training as actors, but in terms as well of commitment to theatre as an art.

Tomson Highway ( playwright)

Richard said that he started each morning with a dance of joy so that no matter what happened during the day, that joy would return to him somewhere. Since I started my clown work with Richard two years ago he has returned to me almost every day.

Michael Harms (Clown, actor)

I decided I didn't like Richard Pochinko even before I met him. He was the handsome blond guy who was always surrounded by eager, adoring faces. But then I took a class from him and realized that he was a teacher of genius. He was also a great human being, and eventually my dear friend. I miss him very much.

Marc Connors (Late singer with "The Nylons")

Richard celebrated the edge of risk. Jan Kudelka (Performer, Playwright) Knowing, loving, and working with Richard gave me immeasurable gifts, the greatest being in my own creative imagination. Since the years of Clown work in the mid 70s, my focus in theatre became exclusively musical and compositional, direction which Richard very much encouraged. What I had learned from Richard completely permeates my approach to musical scoring - an uncanny sense of trusting my first impulses, an intuitive understanding of text,. atmosphere, coloration and intent. Not a day goes by in my musical work that does not draw on his rich legacy. He taught by example, friendship, and inspired instruction, the art of making manifest the dream. He is with me always.

Marsha Coffey (Composer, Musician)

He brought out from its hiding place within me my joy of playing, and let me share it with the world.

Cheryl Cashman (Clown)

Richard gave me a new perspective on the world. He looked at what a person was, unencumbered by expectation and judgement. And he respected and celebrated their want and desires. He was also a very private man, and I learned much about being alone form him.

Fiona Griffiths (Dancer, choreographer)

Meeting Richard in 1983 opened for me a whole new world - The world of Theatre. It was like him taking me by the hand and guiding me through all the aspects of theatre starting with clowning, then characterization, both as a performer (in temptonga) and as a director (by workshopping my ideas and helping me to realize them).

"Ida - follow your instincts."

This is the strongest guiding point he left me with. He seemed to be able to take the gifts we have and make them grow. He helped each person find their unique creative gift.

Ida Carnevali (Artistic Director, Kensington Karnival)

I think about him every day. Richard sitting in the old red comfy studio chair like a throne - his head back, eyes crying, a rough sound ringing in the studio for a brief moment, then eyes up, twinkling, ears bright red, anticipating the next fantastic thing. (Cashman, 1991: pg 97 - 98)

Waving Goodbye to Someone you Love

Ian Wallace in memory of Richard Pochinko, 1946-1989 (Impact - Fall 1989).

"Light the first light of evening, as in a room In which we rest and, for small reason, think The world imagined is the ultimate good."

Richard Pochinko was raised on a farm in Lockport, Manitoba, the youngest of three brothers and two sisters. His father died when he was eight months old. His mother and his eldest brother and sister maintained the household. It was as if he had two mothers. When he was a child, he would go in the barn and make miniature stages and circuses, and fill them with tiny actors and performers.

Theatre Resource Centre is the physical manifestation of a dream started by Richard Pochinko and Anne Skinner. Having worked in traditional theatre for many seasons both found themselves unfulfilled, something very basic was missing. Because of the way things were geared to the continuous mounting and striking of productions, they felt the need to step outside and begin again from the heart. Thus the TRC was founded "to provide a safe environment for the exploration of new approaches to individual creativity and the discovery of new theatrical forms." That was in Ottawa in 1975.

I met Richard in Montreal in 1967. He was one of 12 stage managers at Expo Theatre and I was a grade 7 teacher from Edmonton. Little did I know at the time that I was about to embark on a roller coaster ride of monumental extremes. The first thing about Richard that I remember is the light. Purely and simply the space between and round us was filled with light. For me our meeting was an awakening, an instantaneous recognition of a light brother. From then on I was immersed in a world of emotions, love and tears, and laughter, and the theatre. The theatre. That was Richard's life and yet his vision went on beyond.

In 1969, while working at Neptune theatre in Halifax, Richard spoke in his sleep of being in a spaceship along with others, some that we knew, some we had yet to meet. As we flew over the earth we saw people, at first he thought were waving. As we came closer, he gasped, "No, they're trying to get our, they're all inside glass jars struggling to get out. Our missions is to release them, to break down the glass and let them free."

This became Richard's work,. helping people to release themselves. To let go of images, fears, tensions, blocks, negativity. From his studies of mask with Le Coq in Paris, and through Jonsmith, his shaman guide on the west coast, he developed a series of exercises which have become the teaching to the TRC. Exercises requiring deep honesty like Return to Childhood, and Waving Good-bye to Someone You Love. Over the years he touched and influenced the lives and careers of thousands. From the high school students who experienced our shows and workshops for the Theatre Hour Company to the lawyers, therapists story-tellers, artists and performers who have faced themselves in six directions and gone through the masks. The gift that he gave to so many of us is like a mirror. He led us to face our essential uniqueness and encouraged us to love and celebrate it. He called it the clown.

I write this In celebration of a clown, to unleash his spirit on another adventure and to assure that many more will continue waving good-bye to someone they love. Good-bye by friend. (Wallace, 1989: pg 11)