Malibu performer David Robinson-Hicks might barely be of legal age, but he has accomplished more theatrically in his short life than many actors of seasoned experience.
Singer, dancer, actor, filmmaker, writer and self-described “future philanthropist,” Robinson-Hicks has also worked with the Malibu Film Society and the city’s Youth Commission for four years, directed a nonprofit outreach program, Global Campus, and helped Malibu Ballet and Performing Arts Company launch a program providing dance training to inner-city youth across the southland.
He’s so busy, he’s taking a gap year before he begins college, following his high school graduation in May. To polish his resume even more, he recently completed a production internship with the fabled Pasadena Playhouse, in their seasonal opener, “Kiss Me, Kate.”
“I was able to see the theater stripped bare and rebuilt into this amazing production,” Robinson-Hicks said. “This has been such an overwhelming opportunity to see how a theater is run, I just don’t want it to be over. I’m begging them to let me continue to work here.”
The nearly 100-year-old Pasadena Playhouse has many years of storied productions, as well as financial travails, including a near-bankruptcy in 2010 that was deflected by an anonymous donor at the last minute. Celebrated as one of the nation’s best regional theaters, the Pasadena Playhouse is known for top-notch production values and innovative takes on traditional titles.
The current production, directed by Playhouse artistic director Sheldon Epps, takes a page from the mid-20th-century tradition of adapting great classical works for African American theater companies. This “Kiss Me, Kate” — a Broadway treasure scored by Cole Porter — sees a black theater company preparing a production of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” The multiple Tony Award-winning show features some of Porter’s best-loved tunes, such as “Too Darn Hot,” “Why Can’t You Behave” and “So In Love.”
Into this hot spot of high expectations fell Robinson Hicks, hired as an assistant to music director and conductor Rahn Coleman. Taking performance notes from Coleman, revising the production music book and delivering up-to-the-minute rehearsal notes to the musicians has kept Robinson-Hicks on his toes.
“I started on this production in mid-August and haven’t slowed down since,” he said. “These actors (including the Emmy Award-winning Wayne Brady) came from all over: New York, Washington D.C. and California. They’ve all done so much to inform my vision of performing, and they’ve all been so nice. To me, the mark of a true professional is how they treat new people.”
Robinson-Hicks is egalitarian in his theatrical pursuits. He has performed in classical Shakespeare (“MacBeth”) and studied with the famed improvisational troupe, The Groundlings. He’s sung in major musical comedy productions (“Seussical”) and episodic television (“Scrubs”). He has also worked backstage as a stage manager, “kid” wrangler and prop master for productions by Malibu’s Young Actors Project. He sees all of it as contributing to a performing career that he hopes will be centered on social justice, environmental reverence and “universal brotherhood.”
His work ethic has been a pleasant surprise to the Pasadena Playhouse crew.
“David brought focus and passion, and a willingness to listen, which many fail to realize is as great, or greater, as one’s ability to communicate,” Playhouse general manager Joe Witt said of his young intern. “He’s the sort of young artist who absorbs his surroundings and compliments the talents of those around him. I needed David to become an extension of … Coleman to free him to focus on the multiple tasks at hand, and have someone he could count upon to assist and help pull it all together. David threw himself right in without hesitation.”
Though he has been dropping broad hints to Playhouse management that he would love to continue working with the company, he has other projects lined up, post-“Kiss Me, Kate.” He wants to do more film acting. He is working on a documentary on the environment, hoping to galvanize younger people into doing more about climate change. He says that his ultimate challenge is “to live up to the kindness my mother shows in everything she does.”
“I take away from this internship a tremendous sense of confidence,” Robinson-Hicks continued. “This was working at a different level. The quality of the work itself doesn’t change, but the audience you can affect can grow bigger. It’s a lot to live up to.”
Witt agreed. “You can spot a love and passion for theater the same way you can spot athleticism, or a natural talent in singing or painting,” he said. “It’s a focus and a drive. He’ll go as far as he chooses to go.”