AAPEX Interview: Elliot Robinson — AAPEX Interview , Elliot Robinson — AAPEX

Friday, October 21, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Elliot Robinson

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Interview by Jaz Dorsey, The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

Elliot Robinson is currently onstage in the title role of WILLY WONKA with Circle Players (www.circleplayers.net)

What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?
I was born in the Bronx, NY, and I was blessed with parents who made it a point to expose us to the arts. Not just going to movies, but concerts, plays on and off Broadway, museums, all of that. A couple of memorable performances I remember seeing in my youth were the original Broadway production of THE WIZ, featuring Stephanie Mills as Dorothy, and Adolph Caesar and a young Denzel Washington in the first off-Broadway run of A Soldier's Play. I was always fascinated by the action on the stage, and by the different characters, particularly when there was music and dancing involved. But the only time I ever participated in any kind of play as a child was a sixth-grade production of Romeo and Juliet. I played Tybalt, Juliet’s hot-tempered cousin, and I was killed in a swordfight by Romeo himself, after I’d killed his homeboy Mercutio. I remain ever thankful to my parents for the exposure to diverse cultural offerings; and I'm thankful for the days in theMorehouse College Glee Club, where I received the bulk of my formal music training. I never realized what any of that was setting me up for until after I turned 40 years old.
Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.
I'm approaching my fifth “birthday” as an actor, so it’s still really new. I have been more fortunate than I could have ever imagined, being able to perform with many of the finest theatre groups in Nashville. I’ve worked with Amun Ra Theatre, Street Theatre Company, Encore Theatre Company, Actors Bridge Ensemble, Collards and Caviar Theatre, Kennie’s Playhouse, and of course, Circle Players. I’ve been able to do other big musicals like THE WIZ (Scarecrow), The Full Monty (Horse),Once on this Island (Tonton), and Jekyll & Hyde the Musical (John Utterson), and I’ve also helped to tell some classic dramatic stories like August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean (Solly Two Kings), Of Mice and Men (Crooks), To Kill a Mockingbird (Tom Robinson), and A Raisin in the Sun (Asagai), which the Nashville SCENE named Best Community Theatre Production of the 2010-11 season. I’ve never formally studied acting, so I look at each show process – from audition to rehearsals to the actual performance – like a class. I’ve learned a lot, but I look forward to learning much more. I also have a couple of stories kicking around in my head (so I have some writing to do), and I’d also love to direct one day.
How are you approaching this role and what is special about the role and the play to you?
People have been asking me, “So, is your Willy Wonka more like Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp?” I’ve never seen the movie with Johnny Depp, and though I remember Gene Wilder’s version, I would never try to do anything to imitate his Wonka. I make it a very strict point that when I’m working on a role, I NEVER watch anything that might influence my preparation for my character. It’s funny, too, how often I have to actively avoid a story on TV because I’m working on a role. I just don’t want to risk even the slightest temptation to copy what somebody else did. I want to become thecharacter; not another actor who has portrayed the character. So, instead of watching Gene Wilder, my research was reading Roald Dahl’s original novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The most special thing about the role is the fun I get to have experimenting with Wonka’s sudden mood swings, the almost schizophrenic nature of the character. I think the play contains a set of very strong, still relevant morals, brilliantly delivered by the Oompa-Loompas: don’t eat too much; don’t chew gum all the time; don’t watch to much TV; and, for parents, don’t spoil your children rotten. It’s a really fun show for young and old folks alike, but the poignancy of the messages it delivers transcends generations.
What are your thoughts on Nashville as a theatre town?
There are a lot of great actors in Nashville, so there is a wealth of talent from which theatre companies can pull for their productions. I think it helps when a theatre group has its own space, like Encore and Actors Bridge do, and more recently, Amun Ra and Street, because I believe that consistency brings a stronger fan following. I would love to see more groups obtain their own permanent spaces. But, as far as Nashville as a theatre town, I can really only speak in terms of community theatre, because I haven’t “gone pro” – yet. I would love to have the opportunity to make a living acting in Nashville, but to be honest, it’s something that I just haven’t thought about doing yet. I’m having too much fun right now. There are other professional groups I’d love to work with, like Nashville Children’s Theatre, but I can’t swing their daytime rehearsal schedules, because I have to continue to work my day job. So, I stick with community theatre, and live my fantasy life on stage at night and on the weekends. I’m having a tremendous amount of fun, and I’m excited to see what the next five years will hold.

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