The world which Riccio has created is masterful. As we have come to expect of him, the artistic vision is beyond well-executed.

Arts & Culture Texas

With Badai Master, Wu Zheng Niam, Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Hunan Province,  2016

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photo: John Lehman


Thomas Riccio, performance and media artist, writer and director, is from Cleveland, Ohio, where he grew up in a working-class Italian-American neighborhood and attended West Technical High School where he was on the varsity wrestling, track, cross-country teams--grappling, persistence, and endurance becoming life-defining themes. He has worked variously as a US Merchant Seaman, Teamster, warehouseman, a hotel manager and maintenance engineer, for a crisis center, and as a high school teacher for the New York Public Schools in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He is currently a Professor of Performance and Aesthetics at the University of Texas at Dallas. Previous positions include: Professor of Theatre, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Artistic Director, Chicago's Organic Theater Company; Resident Director, Cleveland Play House; Assistant Literary Director, American Repertory Theatre where he was also research assistant to Robert Brustein; Visiting Professor of Theatre, University of Der es Salaam (Tanzania); University of Pondicherry (India); University of Nairobi, the Korean National University for the Arts; Visiting Professor of Anthropology and Ethnography, Jishou University (China); Visiting Professor Drama Therapy, California Institute of Integral Studies; and Artistic Director, Tuma Theatre, an Alaska Native performance group for whom he devised and directed nine performance works. For his work with Tuma he received the Dancing Bear Award by Athabaskan Indian Tanana Valley Native Corporation and was recognized by the Museum of the North for his contributions to Alaska Native Culture. He has received numerous awards and recognition for his teaching, directing, and contributions to cultural development and revitalization. He has directed at American regional theatres, including, LaMama ETC, The New York Theatre Workshop,  the Teatro di Roma of Italy, and the National Theatre of Sakha (Central Siberia). Riccio works extensively in the area of indigenous performance, ethnography, ritual, and shamanism, developing performances and fieldwork in South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Russia, Alaska, Korea, India, Nepal, China, and the Republic of Sakha (Siberia), which declared him a Cultural Hero of the Sakha People. He is Fulbright Senior Specialist and has received grants and funding for his work from the USIS, the NORAD (Norway), British Council, the Republic of Zambia, SIDA (Sweden), Finnita (Finland), Alaska State Council on the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Joyce Foundation, the AT&T Foundation, the Goethe Institute, Theatre Communications Group, Swedish Writer's Institute, the Office of Cultural Affairs (Dallas),  among others. 


I am deeply intrigued by your work, and admiring of so much of it. You are a unique character with your far-reaching theatre work and travels. But you are also a harbinger. And a person who incarnates the intercultural problem/opportunity.

      Richard Schechner TDR, The Drama Review


Notable projects include research and workshop projects in India and Nepal (2013), devising/directing performance project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2009), research and workshop project in Nairobi, (2002), performance project with the !Xuu Bushmen of the lower Kalahari (1994), two performance projects with the Zulu of South Africa (1992 and 1993), and a nationwide touring performance in Zambia (1994). Riccio has conducted workshops and given lectures throughout the world, most notably at the national theatre or their schools in Poland, Sweden, Finland, Nepal, Kenya, Estonia, South Africa. Academic writings have appeared in TDR (The Drama Review), TheatreForum International, Theatre Topics, Theatre Research International, and PAJ (Performing Arts Journal). Peter Lang published Performing Africa: Remixing Tradition, Theater and Culture. He is the recipient of the International Distinction Prize in Playwriting from the Alexander Onassis Foundation; his play Rubber City ran in year-long repertory at the Kleist Theatre in Frankfurt, and he has worked extensively as a Narrative Engineer for Hanson Robotics creating robot "brain" for the world's leading conversational robots. His photographs, videos, and installations have been exhibited in a variety of galleries. He is the Poo Pah Doo (aka Founder and Artistic Director ) of Dead White Zombies, a Dallas-based, post-disciplinary performance group, designing/writing/directing performance immersions: blah blah (2011), (w)hole (2012), Flesh World (2012),T.N.B. (2013),  Bull Game (2013), kaRaoKe MoTeL (2014),DP92 (2015) and  Holy Bone (2016-2017) , an eight month, multi-phase performance project performed in public spaces and immersive environments. The current DWZ project in development is Blue Jelly.  He was an artist in residence at Halka in Istanbul (2014) and the Watermill Art Center (2016). He collaborated with Sibyl Kempson on a series of twelve one-day performance rituals at the Whitney Museum, NYC (2016). He is currently working on a long-term research and performance project with the Miao, an ethnic minority group in southwestern China, which will culminate in a devised performance with traditional healers. His first documentary film on the Miao, Huan Nuo Yuan,  was an official selection at film festivals in Beijing, Dallas, Sofia, and Paris.

Huan Nuo Yuan, a documentary film. Recent festival showings in Paris and in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Huan Nuo Yuan, a documentary film. Recent festival showings in Paris and in Sofia, Bulgaria.


excerpt from an interview, May 2017

Thomas Riccio: I’m a child of the 1950s, and became a big fan of classic horror and sci-fi in a time when American Dream propaganda was at is its apex. I was manufactured during the Ur-moment of the Amerikkkan Zombie. Every Saturday I was at the Madison Theatre where, for twenty-five cents, you could scream and cringe, go home and have nightmares. In between features, they ran Three Stooges shorts—horror, comedy, absurdity fused in my consciousness. I was born and raised in a working-class ethnic neighborhood of Cleveland amidst chemical and stamping plants, foundries, and factories. Life was an immersive walk through horror, sci-fi, ethnic comedy. That’s why I like working with the post-industrial aesthetic of West Dallas. There is a terrible, poetic beauty offered up by our chosen environments.

Cleveland, the mistake on the lake, the city where the Cuyahoga River caught on fire (twice), the rust belt, a corrupt devolution wasteland. We lived up the street from a beach. Lake Erie, a lake declared dead, putrid with industrial effluents mixed with organic death, bloated dead carp gasping, speckled with pustules, slick and colorful with toxin-provoked hues. For fun, we would sit on top of a large pipe waiting for the rumbling majestic spew of raw sewage overflow. These feelings and images are like maggots wormed into my genetics. They lay underneath, a dark passenger, the inspiration for the Dead White Zombies.

Cleveland was a prophecy premonition of the world to come. White, European-based culture, with all of its incumbent values, is self-destructive human-centric, self-aggrandizing, consumption-driven perpetrator of ongoing atrocities. The world is now its suburb. You can’t have unlimited growth on a finite planet. White culture is a death machine. Dead, but like a zombie, somehow still walking around, still causing all sorts of destruction, cannibalizing what little remains until there is nothing left. We are delusional, placated, pacified, willfully ignorant, numbed by the immensity of our predicament.

The metaphor of the Dead White Zombies still guides us, and like a Zombie, we have no one performance space. I get a hair-brained idea, a twitch, a feeling, a flash of an image and then things are off and running. We have a little Zombie community of like-minded crazies; something like a sci-fi or Zombie collective brain is put into motion. I just spark the activity with some words and feelings and set them loose, we talk, we explore, we get confused, and then things happen, performances magically appear. I love working with these people, all of them. Once they are off and running, I have no idea what is going to evolve. All I insist on is for everyone to be relaxed, themselves, creative, and authentic. I tell them that what we are offering is a gift to our community. A gift doesn’t mean anything unless is it offered with a generosity of spirit. Be remembered for how much you gave, not how much you kept.

Riccio performing for orphans  in Makanda Mathlanu, kwaZula Natal, South Africa photo: Shelley Kjonstad

Riccio performing for orphans  in Makanda Mathlanu, kwaZula Natal, South Africa

photo: Shelley Kjonstad



with Brett Cowell, April 2017

photo: Alisa Eykillis

A trailer of a full length film, Wedding Dresses; Riccio was a featured actor. Filmed in Hunan, China, 2016. Written and directed by Peng JingQuan.


Thomas Riccio is saying something more, something bigger... he is mixing several different realities, or frames of reality that transforms characters through impersonation. It is through impersonation that their lives take on meaning enabling them to exist within many realities until reality itself looses definition. Advertisements, game shows, film clips, all become part of their reality until everyday life becomes a unity of impersonation.

Berliner Zeitung


Trickster: The Work of Thomas Riccio

2011 Documentary by Patrick Dowling