This month’s Meet This Artist is by guest blogger Elisabeth Lewis Corley.
Native North Carolinian Derrick Ivey was a Radio, Television and Motion Picture major at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, studying journalism and screenwriting. He moved to Atlanta briefly then returned to Chapel Hill and settled in Chatham County where he has lived for the past 18 years.
There was no theatre program in his high school so he arrived uninoculated to a 100 student introductory elective in theatre as an undergraduate at UNC. His professor announced auditions for a student production. He showed up for the audition, was cast, and the rest, as they say, is the history of infectious diseases.
Derrick now teaches high school acting at the Chapel Hill School of Musical Arts and is a highly accomplished, celebrated and much-loved theatre actor, director and designer.
Recent reviews of A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney, by Lucas Hnath, produced by Manbites Dog Theater in association with StreetSigns, show reviewers reaching for new superlatives in their efforts to describe this brilliant, protean actor.
“Derrick Ivey continues to surpass himself. He exudes charisma, even as his Walt reveals the nastiness behind the public persona, and he contrives to look just like Disney.”
– Kate Dobbs Ariail, The Five Points Star.
“Derrick Ivey’s performance as Walt Disney is breathtaking. He is a believable Walt, even though he isn’t doing an impersonation. He blends the charm and the look of the man with the sinister, destructive creature that Hnath has constructed. He speaks the rhythms of this text as though he wrote it himself. This is a truly grand display of high-calibre acting.”
– Dustin K. Britt, Triangle Arts & Entertainment
“Derrick Ivey’s Walt is another in his recent string of stellar turns, expertly projecting the character’s power-hungry, adoration-seeking mania.”
– Roy Dicks, Raleigh News & Observer
Reviews of earlier productions reveal much the same efforts to find words to capture what it is that Derrick achieves on stage.
The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? by Edward Albee at Manbites Dog
“[D]irector Joseph Megel’s collaboration with actor Derrick Ivey has resulted in another landmark performance, this time in the role of Martin. From the first notes of charm -and fundamental distraction – Ivey portrays both the enchantment and bewilderment of a man swept off his feet by an impossible situation. As the common ground shatters beneath his feet, Ivey’s Martin appears to fold at times like human origami, twisted nearly in two both by the need – and the complete inability – to make anybody begin to understand what’s happened to him.”
– Byron Woods, Indy Week
“Derrick Ivey, who delighted Manbites Dog audiences with his passionate portrayal of the title character in Nixon’s Nixon, creates another truly unforgettable character with his remarkable portrait of poor, bewildered, tongue-tied Martin Gray, trapped in the throes of a passion that he cannot quite understand.”
– Robert W. McDowell, Classical Voice of North Carolina
In wrap-ups of the best of the year and the best of the decade, Derrick’s work is always acknowledged.
The Year (2004)
“Derrick Ivey seemed possessed by the ghost of the Trickster himself in his breathtaking, career-defining performance in Nixon’s Nixon.”
– Byron Woods, The Indy
The Decade (2000-2009)
“Nixon’s Nixon, Manbites Dog, 2004—A scathing political comedy, and an amazing Nixon by Derrick Ivey.”
– Byron Woods, The Indy
No matter what role he takes superlatives follow.
“The first three contenders for best-ever at Manbites that sprang to mind were The Vanishing Point, from 2007; God’s Ear, from 2010; and The Brothers Size, from 2012. Jeff Storer directed two of these (Joseph Megel the third) but Derrick Ivey – who is fabulous, darling, as theatre director Peter in The Homosexuals – had something to do with the excellence of each of the earlier three, through lead roles and/or set design. He’s crucial here, though inseparable from the rest of the ensemble.”
– Kate Dobbs Ariail, The Five Points Star
“Derrick Ivey is, as usual, entirely believable no matter what he is doing. He also had the audience hooting with laughter at several points, not least during the bathing scene. The multi-talented Mr. Ivey also designed the sets and costumes, which, also as usual, make the most out of very little. (How does he do it? He is also directing the forthcoming Durham Savoyards production of Pirates of Penzance, opening March 14 at the Carolina Theatre.)”
– Kate Dobbs Ariail, The Five Points Star
Derrick is currently directing the final work in the Gilbert & Sullivan cannon, The Grand Duke, with which production he will have directed for the Durham Savoyards the entire cannon. He says, “Yes, this is my 16th year. I never imagined that I would do this. I still feel like the new guy.”
In the fall the company will present Thespis, the first work on which Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated, before they knew what their extended partnership would produce. There was no effort to preserve the production. The libretto survived but the score did not. Durham Savoyards musical director and music scholar Alan Riley Jones has composed a score “in the manner of” and will be the musical director for the world premiere production, which Derrick will direct.
The Durham Savoyards present
Gilbert and Sullivan’s
The Grand Duke
Opening at the Carolina Theatre March 31, 2017
The Durham Savoyards, Ltd. will celebrate the opening of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Grand Duke on Friday, March 31, at 8 p.m., with a preview performance on Thursday, March 30, at 8 p.m. The show runs through Sunday, April 2nd at 2 pm. The Saturday evening performance is at 7. The Grand Duke, the final Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration, is directed and choreographed by Derrick Ivey. The conductor is Alan Riley Jones.
About the Durham Savoyards, Ltd.:
The Savoyards have been producing the topsy-turvy musical comedies of Sir William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur S. Sullivan since 1963. They take their name from London’s Savoy Theatre, where many of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas were first performed. The Durham Savoyards is a 501 (c) (3) corporation.
* * *
Before the Gilbert and Sullivan piece closes, Derrick will have begun rehearsals for his next role as an actor in Marjorie Prime by Jordan Harrison at Manbites Dog, directed by Jeff Storer, running April 27 – May 13, 2017. In addition to the acting assignment, he will also design the costumes. “But,” Derrick says, “they’ll be simple. At least, I hope they will be simple.”
How he got here
Derrick grew up on a farm and ultimately found life in town claustrophobic. Through his work in theatre he began spending time in Chatham County in the days when theatergoers in-the-know would head out Chicken Bridge Road toward James Carnahan’s Rock Rest amphitheater for theatrical performances like Medea or Lysistrata or Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
He spent enough evenings in Chatham with Jim Carnahan and Tom Marriott to begin to gravitate towards living here. “It sounds funny,” Derrick says, “but sometimes I think I just have a short attention span. I enjoy changing gears often. Even in gardening. Some days I want to dig up and change the whole landscape. Other times I want to spend the day doing the most meticulously selective weeding.”
The preternaturally modest Derrick has been known to refer to his nearly 12 acres of Chatham County as a “hobby farm” but every detail is in keeping with the wooded site and shows evidence of careful planning and great care in its maintenance.
Mossy paths curve through the lovely wooded retreat where you might look in one direction to see a fire pit surrounded by chairs or in another find a water feature cascading down boulders or sculptural crepe myrtles, fig trees, a meditative rock-lined labyrinth laid out on a slope, a chicken coup, or a goat house. Derrick raises angora goats and uses the fleece and yarn in his own work and shares it with other fiber artists.
“I was briefly a studio art major – primarily sculpture. I always had an affinity for how things look and that lead me to design. And then, I learn a lot about acting from directing and a lot about directing from acting.”
So, perhaps it is less a question of limited attention span and more a case of extraordinary capacity. And application. Some years ago, a friend of Derrick’s started calling him “a jack of all trades and master of many.” Just so.
From the Artist
Full Name: Derrick Graham Ivey
I live: on Gotham Wood Farm near Pittsboro.
I knew I was an actor when: I didn’t have the chance to do theater until college, so I started off feeling quite a bit behind the curve. I can’t remember the first time I felt “legit.” But that’s a realization I have to make anew with every theatrical challenge.
My favorite playwrights are: I tend to fall in love with the playwright whose work I’m currently rehearsing -I mean, if you don’t love the work, why present it? So right now I’m in love with Gilbert and Sullivan. I’m directing and choreographing their final collaboration, The Grand Duke, for the Durham Savoyards and I continue to marvel at the timely/topical references in this 120 year-old libretto. I’m also in rehearsals (as an actor) for Marjorie Prime at Manbites Dog Theater; and I’m loving the explorations of memory, story, fact, fiction, and humanity that are woven throughout Jordan Harrison’s haunting script.
Childhood memories: We had one gnarled apple tree—my mom said it was the only tree from her father’s orchard which had survived Hurricane Hazel. When my chores were done, I’d sit in that tree and daydream. If apples were in season, I’d eat apples. They were small and bitter, but I’d eat them anyway.
Some jobs I’ve had are: school bus driver, farm hand, gas station attendant, assembler of trophies, cook, AV technician, retail display artist, director of marketing, director of theater programs, teacher, adjunct professor, columnist, design coach…
When I’m not working in theatre, you might find me: I’m almost always involved in theater in some capacity—actor, director, designer, teacher. But you might also find me walking in the woods, tending to animals or helping others design and create their living spaces.
The craziest thing I ever did was: blindly trust a director. And I do it often.
I can’t help but feel a bit insane when I accept a role with no idea of how I can possibly play it. When I think back, it seems like the stuff of dreams. I’ve found myself playing characters decades older than I am and also decades younger. I’ve been nearly naked onstage on several occasions—both physically and emotionally. I’ve explored the dark and ugly sides of humanity and also stepped into the light.
Next on my bucket list is: I’ve never been one for lists or specific objectives; I try to do what needs doing and to embrace whatever adventure comes along. But since you’ve brought up the idea of my impending death…. I guess I do hope there will be a few moments towards the end when I can simply sit on the upturned bucket and enjoy the scenery.
On my bedside table you’ll find: Nothing. I tend to drop right off to sleep, so reading in bed isn’t a viable option. I guess it’s a bit odd that I retain an empty bedside table nonetheless.
Most people don’t know I: am really good at keeping secrets.
My favorite places to go in Chatham County: downtown Pittsboro which is lovely. Great for a lazy hour or two of browsing. I especially like to go just before Christmas when the big shopping centers are sheer chaos but the Pittsboro shops are quietly warm and welcoming.
Farmers markets – whenever and wherever they pop up. Chatham County farmers and their products are incredible.
And, of course, I love my home in the woods. I thoroughly enjoy all the many things I do throughout the Triangle, but nothing’s finer than a solid day at home with the gardens, the wilderness and the animals.
Three Chatham County artists I admire are: There are so many artists I admire, but here are three: actor, director, homesteader Tom Marriott; prolific musician, visual artist, fellow goatherd Michael Rank; and ceramic/culinary artist, animal rights activist Siglinda Scarpa.
We extend a special thanks to Alan Dehmer who captured many of the photographs used in this blog post. He is a long-time Manbites Dog Theater photographer.