10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 7: Arbender Robinson, Dance Captain/Swing


Hair
played its last performance on June 27th.  And while I’m sure everyone in the cast/crew was very disappointed to see this love-and-flowers-filled production close, I’d bet that it took the show closing to finally allow Arbender Robinson, the Dance Captain and Swing, to catch his breath!

Dance Captains/Swings are some of the hardest working people on Broadway.  They have to memorize a bunch of different tracks and be ready to go on for any of them at a moment’s notice (sometimes during the show).  They are constantly in rehearsal, and they have to keep the show in shape by giving notes to their fellow cast members/friends (which ain’t easy).  

It’s no wonder that so many Dance Captains and Swings go on to choreograph, since they have to possess great creative skills and great leadership skills simultaneously.

But enough from me about what these gutsy guys and dolls do for a living, because God knows I’ve never done a pirouette on Broadway (ok, there was that one time at 3 AM on Broadway and 51st St., but that was after an opening night party, and . . . well, never mind).

Here’s Arbender!

1. What is your title?

Dance Captain/Swing

2. What show/shows are you currently working on?

Hair.  Love Out Loud!!! (I love that phrase)

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

That’s impossible!
Actually I maintain all of the blocking and choreography for the show,
assist in training all understudies, swings and replacements, and I am also
responsible for knowing what every ensemble role does in the show, and I must be
able to go on for any of those tracks (male or female).

4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

Attention to detail is most important. In my show I am
looking at over 20 people onstage at a time and if things are wrong, or unsafe, or not what the choreographer intended, then I need to see it, note it, and
devise a quick plan to fix it for the next show.

Self motivation is great, too.  Not only do I need to know the show, but I
need to be sure that I am ready to perform any of these roles at any time…this requires a ton of homework to remember different vocal parts, blocking,
choreography, and acting intentions for each character.  This includes everything they do
offstage, too: costume changes, prop shifts, entrances and exits etc.

Time management as well.
Sometimes you may have a list of things to tweak or adjust and you have
limited time to get the notes out and fixed before the show.

5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

Well I do have a degree in Theatre and Music.  I do think it’s more of my people skills that
helped me land this job.  Everyone learns and takes notes differently.  You need
people skills to be able to communicate effectively with each individual.

6. What was your first job in theater?

A Play called Magic In the Toyshop.  I was in 3rd grade and I played a robot name
Marv-L.  I even remember the lines.

7. Why do you think theater is important?

Theatre has been around forever.  It’s a constant link between the past, present
and future.  It is a medium that can
teach [and] allow self expression and creativity.
It, like music, can touch anyone [regardless of] race, age,
religion, or sex.  For me, I truly think
theatre and the arts saved my life.
Honestly, but that’s a much longer conversation.

8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

There is a lull in amazing creativity.  I’m not being mean by this but it seems that
commercial success is more important
than creating new creative and innovative pieces of art.  I’m not a writer or a designer, but where are
the new creators?  What innovation in the
arts will a history book say about today?

9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

I wish everyone could recall that the work is what
counts.  If it’s a show at school, or
community theatre, Broadway or Regional; it is all about the work, the passion,
the precision.  We always have our eyes
set on the dream of Broadway but the dream should be to create great work.  It does not matter where.  We would have no Steppenwolf, no Groundlings,
no 2nd City if someone did not realize…I JUST WANNA DO THE WORK and CREATE
ART!

10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

This is simple…. JUST DO IT!!!   You will get a ton of “no’s” and
discouragement, you will kick yourself all the time…  Just dont give up.  Once you doubt it…. then it’s over.  You have to be your biggest motivator and JUST DO IT!   Accept nothing less…

What does a director do after opening?

A reader recently dropped me an email asking what a Broadway or Off-Broadway Director’s responsibilities are, after a show officially opens.

While it may seem like a Director’s job would end as soon as that opening night party kicks into high gear, in actuality, the gig just morphs into something different.

There are replacements to cast, and understudies to train, and Tony Award numbers to plan and stage.  There is (hopefully) talk of a tour or two.  There is press to do.

But one of the most important jobs a Director has after opening is making sure the cast keeps delivering their opening night performance night after night after year after year.

Because over time, without anyone even noticing, things have a way of shifting ever so slightly from where they started, whether you’re talking about a cast’s performances or a mountain range!  It’s no one’s fault.  It may not be on purpose.  It just happens naturally, whenever the same thing is done night after night after year after year.

Think about it like this . . .

In the morning, you put on a pair of shoes, and lace them up good and tight.  If you walk around in those shoes all day long, by the end of the day, those laces are going to loosen up some.  It just happens.

And at some point, before they become untied, you’re going to have to bend down and lace them up super tight again, right?

That’s what a Director does after opening.

He tightens up a show’s laces.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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