Treading the boards and ploughing the sea


    Ask Robert Iacopino when he first saw theater and he queries, “The first time that I can remember?” Although his parents had been taking him since he was very young, his first recollection is of “Cats” at the Schubert Theater: “I loved the way all the people were so energetic and alive. It was really cool to hear them singing and see them dancing. I was too little to appreciate the technical aspects, but I loved the experience of it.”

    At 2, the PCH resident filmed a commercial that was never aired and a CBS promo that was. At 3, he was modeling for print ads.

    He still liked being in the audience until he watched his older sister, Perrin, in Santa Monica Playhouse’s youth theater program. She performed in a “summer stock” production, he recalls. “They had the cast party at my house. I didn’t know anyone, but they all knew me as Perrin’s brother. I thought it would be really cool if they all knew my name.”

    Out went the sailing lessons, at which he says he was a failure, and in came acting. He played a French detective in a 1997 summer stock production at the playhouse. “We had the cast party at my house again,” he says, “and no one called me Perrin’s brother.”

    The MHS senior plans to attend college, then “do something in the world of theater.” He says this pleases his parents and stepparents — attorneys all. “I don’t want to be a lawyer,” he volunteers.

    Iacopino spent three weeks this summer in the British Isles with Santa Monica Playhouse’s Young Professionals Company, his second tour across the pond with the troupe.

    In Derry/Londonderry, the company gave three performances of “Alice and the Wonderful Tea Party.” What does he remember of Northern Ireland? “We set up the stage, performed and took down the stage. It was basically a lot of work.” The airline lost one of their boxes of props and costumes, which the actors scrambled to replace before their performances. The airline found the box after the company had moved on to England.

    The troupe stayed at the homes of actors from Derry’s youth theater company, The Playhouse. Iacopino stayed with the family of 15-year-old actor David Rogers. “We stayed up ’til odd hours in the morning, talking, drinking tea, eating biscuits.” Fortunately the group was untouched by the firebombs set off during his stay. “A lot of the parents called,” he says, “but we weren’t aware of it. They closed down one of the streets right next to the theater we were working at, but they opened it up a half-hour later.”

    The company then traveled to Monaghan, Ireland. Iacopino saw soldiers on sentry as he crossed the border. “It was weird,” he sums up. At Monaghan, the actors stayed at 19th century Castle Leslie, owned and operated by a cousin of Santa Monica Playhouse director Evelyn Rudie. “It was a bit rainy outside,” he recounts. “Inside, it was really kind of cozy. It’s exclusive. We would never have been able to stay there if Evelyn were not related.”

    For week two, the troupe traveled to London, where they stayed at a dormitory at the University of London and enjoyed a busman’s holiday — seeing as much of the London theater as possible. Of the Globe Theatre, where he saw “The Merchant of Venice,” he says, “We were groundlings. The actors are right there with you. There’s a lot of interaction. They can see you.”

    The Royal National Theatre set up meetings, workshops and a performance of “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” for the Santa Monica group. One of the actors in “Brodie” led one of the workshops. “It was cool to have a workshop with him and then see him in the show that night,” Iacopino recalls. During the workshop, they discussed development of the play from the book, deciding which scenes were effective in reaching a theater audience.

    Then, the students worked on ensemble exercises just as the Brodie cast had done. “All of the workshops were to provide us with new perspectives,” says Iacopino. “We were to take them and add them to our performances. I know I was adding things to my performance that I learned.” Another workshop focused on “status” exercises, in which the actor gives the person with whom he is interacting either higher or lower status.

    He doesn’t see a difference between British and American acting styles, but says, “I find the audience is a bit different. I find American audiences to be more loud. English audiences tend to be more constrained. But they still clap a lot.”

    The young actor spent little energy being a tourist. At the Tower of London, Iacopino admits, he sat in the cafe. “It was a nice cafe,” he adds apologetically. “We tried to take a tour of the Museum of the Moving Image, but we were too late, so we went to that cafe.” He did enjoy high tea at Hyde Park and an ice cream at Covent Garden.

    After London, the travelers arrived in the Kenilworth/Warwick area. There, they stayed at the homes of the young actors of The Playbox Theatre. Iacopino housed with Tom Jones-Berney, 16, who has already performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Santa Monica Playhouse troupe performed its original plays, “Alice” (Iacopino playing the Mad Hatter) and “The Silver Key” (playing a “nool,” whom he describes as co-dependent). Two performances at a local school brought surprising, disrespectful laughter from the English schoolchildren.

    Iacopino ran the light board for one performance. “They sat me down five minutes before and said, ‘Move this up and down to control these lights. . . .’ It made me interested in figuring out how to really do lights.”

    On the outside, the young actor enjoys scuba diving (he’s done Catalina and the Channel Islands) and studies Japanese. He also helped form The Friendship Writers Focus Group at the playhouse, which writes plays the younger actors perform at workshops.