Blake Robison has played all the parts at Vermont Stage Company — playwright, actor, director, marketer, grant writer, schmoozer. Last week the 34-year-old Middlebury native performed one last task for the theater company he founded six years ago in Burlington: He wrote himself out of the script.
In June, Robison will take over as artistic director of the Clarence Brown Theater at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville — a plum job that combines academic duties with the product and presentation of a world-class theater season. Oh, and a $12 million endowment left by the late, great Hollywood director of Anna Karenina, National Velvet, The Woman of Affairs and Intruder in the Dust. As a career opportunity, says Robison, “it was just too good to pass up.”
It’s been a slow exit for Robison, who started cutting back nearly two years ago when he took over as producing director of the National Shakespeare Company in New York City. Playwright and executive director Dana Yeaton picked up some of the slack, but Robison remained the man behind the scenes, directing plays like The Last Station and Amadeus, landing an ongoing grant to fund new plays, and negotiating for a permanent home in the new black-box performance space at the Flynn Theatre.
For the last several years, Vermont Stage has been based at Royall Tyler Theatre, thanks to a history-making deal Robison struck with the University of Vermont. It was the envy of every other local theater company in the area. As comfortable on stage as he is in the boardroom, Robison is a smooth operator, with a genetic predisposition to diplomacy — his father, Olin Robison, was president of Middlebury College before he took over as president of the Salzburg Seminar.
Robison the younger was not going to turn down an offer “way bigger than Shakespeare,” as he puts it. “I am really thrilled that I can make this transition in my life and leave Vermont Stage in such a good place,” Robison says.
Enter Vermont actor and teacher Mark Nash, who was summoned back from New York City to follow Robison’s ultra-tough act. The son of sculptor Paul Aschenbach, Nash has definitely paid his local drama dues. And he is acting teacher to two members on the Vermont Stage board. “We could have done a national search,” Robison says, “but we thought it would be better with someone from our Vermont family of artists.” In other words, the “incest” was intentional.
“Mark knows every actor in northern Vermont. I think the local arts community should feel excited and reassured. He’s got an awareness of where they’re coming from.”
Although he won’t be directing anything until next spring, Nash will definitely be laboring for the October delivery of Midwives in the new Flynn space, a stage version of the best-selling novel by Lincoln author Chris Bohjalian. Yeaton is adapting the script, while the organization searches for a guest director to start the season off with a bang — no, make that a blood-curdling scream.
Although Midwives is hardly a risky venture, Nash hopes the company can continue to be a testing ground for new scripts. “So many theater seasons are a combination of warmed-over classics or the latest off-Broadway hits,” he says. While his predecessor runs off to join the 66-member League of Resident Theater Companies — which includes the esteemed Guthrie and Yale Rep — Nash promises “by God, someday Vermont Stage will be 67th.”
Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven is on a roll. After he signed up Kris Kristofferson to play the lead in his next movie, Disappearances, “We’re now working to ... accelerate fundraising, both in Vermont and within the film industry,” he writes in a recent press release. The cash he’ll be collecting at a tribute dinner in Lake Placid for film director Milos Forman goes to a different pot, though — Craven’s new Adirondack Fledgling Films Program is an upstate adaptation of the movie mentor program he launched for teens in Vermont. Just in time for the Lake Placid Film Forum.
Here’s some icebreaking news: David Giancola’s latest snow-holds-barred action pic is finally available in the United States, at Blockbuster Video. It’s out two months earlier than expected, but could be a hot seller for summer couch potatoes. It’s not The World Is Not Enough, or even Spellbound, but you’ll see Killington from a whole new angle — the terrorist’s.