Sharkeys TLT directorial debut full of ‘MonkY Business’

Published 1:54 pm Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tryon resident Richard Sharkey knows how to do a lot with a little. At least thats what Susan Taylor Lennon, chair of speech, theatre, and dance at the University of Tampa (UT) in Florida says about her former co-worker. &bsp;

Over the years, that ability has worked well for Sharkey when it came to his set and lighting design work for venues such as Showboat Dinner Theatre, the Falk Theatre at UT and, most recently, here at Tryon Little Theater (TLT).

Since moving to the area in 2007, Sharkey has been active with TLT, designing lights for productions such as “Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Sound of Music,” and “The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged.” He also helped to design, build, and paint the set for “Les Miz.”

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Recently he decided to lay down his tool belt and put on his directing hat. Local residents will have the opportunity to see how Sharkey applies his creative talents to the less is more axiom for directing with the musical comedy, “MonkY Business,” a new comedy by Todd Mueller and Hank Boland, which opens at Tryon Little Theater on November 11. Pam McNeil serves as music director for the production.

Born in Kansas City, MO, in 1945, Sharkey was involved in show business at an early age. Adopted with his twin brother, Donald, by the owner of the Tulsa Oilers hockey team, George Lackey, and his wife, Ruby, his family visited relatives in California and worked in the movies when he was two years old. His father died in a car accident shortly afterward and his mother married Henry Sharkey two years later. They moved to Denver, CO, and then to Houston, TX in 1962.

Bit by the acting bug when he saw his junior high school production of “A Christmas Carol,” Sharkey says, I was enchanted.&bsp; I tried out for the next play available and continued acting in everything I could, including ‘The Music Man’ by the Denver Post Opera when I was 16, even though you were supposed to be 18. I think that this experience really set the hook.

Determined to study theater and only theater, Sharkey attended the University of Houston. His plans changed at the end of the first year and he decided to join the Air Force, three weeks before the Gulf of Tonkin incident. After basic training he eventually went on to Tokyo to finish his Air Force career. While in Japan, he acted with and then ran a community theater group called The Kanto Players.

I started directing with this little theater and staged “The Boy Friend.” It was my first real experience with directing and I loved it, recalls Sharkey.&bsp; &bsp;

While in Japan, he met someone who went to the University of South Florida (USF), and decided to study theater there with the emphasis on directing and acting. Designing the lights for a student production of “Hair,” he immersed himself in directing and technical theater until he graduated in 1971.

After he graduated, he moved into a ramshackle house built in 1897 in Hyde Park, a rundown section of Tampa, with his friend Jerry Bickel. It was in a state of decay and waiting for revival so we began painting, draping and having a good time, says Sharkey. &bsp;

Many actors and friends stayed in the house and helped to pay the mortgage, including his future wife, Barbara, who divided her time between there, Boone, NC, and New York City, where she hung out with the Alvin Ailey dancers.

The best thing that happened in my life was when we got married in 1979, says Sharkey.

Hired by the Showboat Dinner Theater in St. Petersburg, FL, Sharkey helped with the set for a Bob Cummings production after which Showboat asked Sharkey to become their technical director. There he designed lights and sets for some of the stars that he had seen in the movies and on television.

I acted in a play with George Hamilton and worked with some of the great film and stage stars such as Martha Raye, Bob Crain, Cesar Romero, Forest Tucker, Ray Walston, Ozzie and Harriet, Leslie Ann Warren, Kay Ballard, and Forrest Tucker, Sharkey says.

While working at the Showboat, Sharkey started designing and directing with a group of students from USF and he and Dale Rose formed a company known as The Alice People. Eventually stepping up to the role of co-artistic director, Sharkey moved the company to the UT Falk Theater and, in an effort to make it a professional theater, searched for someone to take the company to the next level. &bsp;

The results were disastrous and the theater was dead in a year, but Sharkey helped start a new company called The Playmakers at The Cuban Club in Ybor City. He stayed with that company for seven years before deciding to leave the theater and work for “Time Magazine” as a subscription adjuster. It only took six months and he was back on the road with the Bits & Pieces Puppet Theatre with his old friend and roommate Jerry Bickel. &bsp;

Bits & Pieces Puppet Theatre toured the east coast to Chicago, and Hong Kong. It was fun being on the road, for a while, but being away from my wife, Barbara, was not the life I envisioned, so I decided to stay in Tampa and did freelance design work until I was invited to work for American Stage as their technical director and designer, says Sharkey.

In 1992, after two years with American Stage, he left to design lighting and sets for Stageworks and The Gorilla Theater in Tampa. Founded by Anna Brennen, Stageworks created the black box theater space at the Falk Theatre. Brennan, who worked with Sharkey for seven years, says, Without him we would not have Stageworks today. He is a unique creature as most talented artists are and has a great quirky sense of humor and is very imaginative and clever with a very eclectic and unusual taste in music. &bsp;

About the same time, Sharkey started doing the lighting and sets for the UT Drama Department. After balancing work for three companies, he started teaching and working primarily for UT. His hard work did not go unrecognized and, in 1997, the Hillsborough Arts Council voted him Artist of the Year. In 1999, he added designing for ballet to his creative repertoire until the end of the 2004 season, when he also retired from the University. After three years, the Sharkeys decided to leave Florida for the mountains of Tryon and Saluda. Sharkey has been volunteering at TLT ever since.

Part of my retirement dream was to get back to community theater and TLT seemed like a perfect fit, says Sharkey, who was drawn to the organization because of the core of volunteers that keep the theater moving and growing.

Recently joining the TLT board, Sharkey has been helping to change the space to make it more useful for productions. He also takes care of the technical needs of the theater, keeping the equipment working and advocating the addition of new much needed equipment. He decided to make his directorial debut at TLT with “MonkY Business” because he says it is one of the funniest plays he has read in quite a while.

I am a big fan of black and white comedy movies and the old movie comedy teams, and I have to believe the writers of this show were as well. I like their brand of humor, with Abbott Costello for the head monk, Brother Forte for the mute monk, Brother Brooks for the organizer behind the scenes, and Brother Lee Love, he says.

The plot for this farce centers on the last-ditch effort of five brothers to save their monastery from foreclosure. After trying bake sales and raffles, they still have to come up with $250,000 by midnight with a radio marathon and a five-minute shot at a worldwide audience. The show is a series of songs and stories, a radio drama entitled Mayhem at the Monastery, a puppet and magic show (for the radio audience no less). It is also filled with funny shtick a la whos on first and mother was an udder.

The music ranges from country gospel to blues, ballads with songs about living in a monastery, wearing mohair robes, being “funky monkys,” celibacy, and maybe even something devilish that Sharkey says will have you asking for the CD once you hear them. &bsp;

The cast for “MonkY Business” comes from the greater Thermal Belt region with Guy Winker from Rutherfordton, NC, playing Abbott Costello and Mark Monaghan from Inman, SC, playing Brother Brooks.&bsp; Local Tryon residents include: Jack Carruth, playing Brother Lee Love; Pat T. Peake, playing Brother Forte; and Lavin Cuddihee, playing Brother Clarence.

“From my experience, Richard Sharkey’s attention to detail through this production is very professional and exacting. He is a demanding yet amiable director but gives his actors plenty of leeway to explore the nuances of their characters, says Cuddihee.

Sharkey shares TLTs dream to acquire its own performance space and hopes to have input on designing that new facility.

“MonkY Business” opens November 11 for eight performances at Tryon Little Theater Workshop located at 516 S. Trade Street in Tryon. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Tickets are available at the TLT box office at the Workshop location. Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 828-859-2466 or email

Directions to Tryon Little Theater Workshop: From Asheville, take I-26 East to Hwy. 108 and Hwy. 74 (exit 67). Follow 108 toward Tryon about 4 miles to Workshop on right.

From Spartanburg, take I-26 West to Hwy. 14 (exit 1 – Landrum) toward Landrum. On Hwy. 176, turn right and drive 3.3 miles to Workshop on left.