BY BRADLEY AKERS, Associate Director at Players by the Sea
‘Another One Bites The Dust’ by Queen plays. A man wearing glasses, a spotted dog suit, and a warm smile appears on the television screen to welcome people to his “weekly growl.” That man, dubbed the Amazing (but humble) Watch Hound, set out in 1980 to promote the exciting theatre here in Jacksonville to the community through public access television waves. Thirty-five years and thousands upon thousands of shows and reviews later, we celebrate the work of Dick Kerekes in harmonious howling.
“Dick’s knowledge and love of theatre is simply unsurpassed,” says Holly Gutshall, longtime Jacksonville actress and Board member at Players by the Sea Theatre, “[Dick] has informed and educated generations of audiences with his everyman approach that makes theatre very accessible and fun.” Along with his partner, Leisla Sansom, Kerekes has been writing reviews in this town since 1980. His unmatched and unparalleled presence in the community has reached thousands of dedicated theatre artists over the 35 years. Beyond our community, Kerekes has written reviews in twelve other cities, attended nearly 30 Humana Festivals of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, and has been an active member of the American Theatre Critics Association. But how does he keep the stamina to see numerous productions, write review after review, and record 35 years worth of television interviews?
“It’s a labor of love,” Kerekes once said. The incredible gifts he has given to this community are not matched with a paycheck, but rather with a smile and warm greeting any time he is the in the audience. That is why his reach in this specific community, one made up largely of Community Theatres where no theatre artist receives a paycheck, is remarkably strong.
Celia Frank, Managing Artistic Director at the Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre is impressed “with Dick’s dedication to theatre, and how he has always shown up for every show for all these years!” The reviews that Kerekes writes are unique and special. While they look at productions critically and intently, they have a sense of admiration for the work that is onstage and effectively hook audiences in an effort to promote the great theatre Jacksonville has to offer. It is a display of affection, respect, and support that theatre artists in Jacksonville have quickly grown to use as fuel for making good theatre. “He’s amazing and a wonderful support for theatre,” says Frank.
For 35 years, the Amazing (but humble) Watch Hound committed himself to welcoming guests from this theatre community to discuss and promote the events happening in the area. Of course, it is an interesting experience to be interviewed by a man dressed as a dog, but his signature style has proven that dogs really are man’s best friends.
Gayle Featheringill, another longtime Jacksonville actress, shared a fond memory of Kerekes. “[Players by the Sea] presented Dick with a special award several years ago: a new dog suit,” Featheringill said, adding, “It’s an interesting situation to be interviewed by a large dog wearing glasses.” It certainly is interesting, but Kerekes made it comfortable.
Several theatre artists love to reminisce about their times on the Watch Hound show, usually sharing similar stories about his method of getting into character. Juan Unzueta, Education Director at Theatre Jacksonville shares his favorite memory as “standing in the studio at Comcast, waiting to be interviewed by the Watch Hound, and Dick is carrying on a conversation while bare-chested and getting into his costume.” His reach and impact, beyond just his TV show, has proven to bond great theatre artists with one another. His tapings generally had members from two different theatre companies, which sparked conversation and collaboration, a very important part of a thriving theatre community.
It came as a shock to the Jacksonville theatre community that Comcast would be ending Public Access TV. After a richly filled 35 years, the Watch Hound had its final sign-off, leaving Kerekes to retire his dog suit. Kerekes has kept his charming spirit in spite of the cancellation. In an interview with the Jacksonville Daily Record, Kerekes said, “I knew it would happen eventually. Heck, even David Letterman quit.”
Although his days at the studio are over for now, Kerekes is still at it. The community can still expect wonderful reviews from Kerekes, posted on folioweekly.com, filled with kind words and passionately crafted thoughts. He is a true champion for theatre and performing arts in Jacksonville and the surrounding areas. His kindness gives those actors, directors, designers, musicians, students, and teachers the confidence to keep creating bold theatre in this bold city.
“He is a champion, a scholar, a gift-giving man. He is a friend. That is what makes Dick so kind,” says Joe Schwarz, Executive Director at Players by the Sea. We celebrate Dick Kerekes with the utmost admiration and respect, because that is what he has given to us. His support and warm congratulations have allowed theatre artists to feel safe and comfortable with creating the great work that sets us aside from other theatre communities. He is a large reason the passion in this community has remained for 35 years.
Thank you, Dick, for being a theatre artist’s best friend for all of these years—you are remarkable and we are beyond blessed to have sat next to an Amazing and Humble Watch Hound like yourself.