Sunday, July 02, 2000

The man behind the Playhouse curtain

PR director bowing out after 13 years to take role as graduate student

        Peter Robinson sees a weird symmetry here: He started his career as Playhouse in the Park public relations director 13 years ago publicizing a Flying Karamazov Brothers show. Later this month, he ends his career the same way.

        “Frankenstein was the first show I worked on and Karamazov the second, but it was the first where I really got into the swing.”

(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        He's been in the swing ever since. Mr. Robinson is the longest-running of the arts scene PR folk and a Playhouse institution. He leaves the job July 30 and heads back to school as a grad student and teaching assistant in Miami University's history department to chase a master's, doctorate and a job teaching college.

        Midlife career change, 'eh?

        “It's really not. PR success has to do with the same assumptions that teaching does. You give the audience credit for their intelligence and share information that will help them, whether it's a fun night out, understanding the world or, in the case of students, where they fit in that world.

        “I'm ready for that kind of new adventure, but part of me still wants 13 more years.”

        Part of the Playhouse does, too, says Ed Stern, producing artistic director: “Take this down verbatim and I'll tell you why I said that in a minute,” he says. “For 13 years, Peter has been tireless in spreading the good word about the Playhouse near and far. It's hard to say goodbye to someone who has been a significant part of the Playhouse family for so many years.

        “The reason I said verbatim is because Peter wrote that for me to say. For eight years, he's put words in my mouth. If you had asked me, Ed Stern unprepared, I would have said, "Gee, I'm gonna miss the guy.'

        “The point is, when I sound eloquent, it's because of him. When I don't, that's me.”

        Quite the praise for a 42-year-old from Portland, Maine, who fell in love with Cincinnati as an undergraduate at Miami and who now lives in Milford with wife, Beth, and kids Ryan, 14, and Sarah, 10.

        “In a way, my family is a big part of my move. We're all looking forward to me working more, uh, conventional hours.”

        Hmmm. How about a few theatrical questions before he gets away? With abridged answers, because he has never answered a question, even a simple one, in less than seven paragraphs ...

        The biggest change I've seen in 13 years on the local theater scene ...

        Is a theater renaissance. I remember when the theater landscape was us and Ensemble Theatre. Today, there are a lot of people doing a lot of great theater.

        My favorite show ...

        At least one would have to be The Mystery of Irma Vepp, the show being what it is, so hilarious and whacky. Or maybe Sanders Family Christmas — More Smoke on the Mountain because the cast was so fabulous.

        If Abracadabra could make one thing disappear ...

        About 20 extra pounds I'm packing. But I should know better because Abracadabra deals with magic, not miracles.

        After a long and stressful day, I like to ...

        Go for a run. It's my outlet. I'm in training for the Columbus Marathon.

        The most important thing I learned in this job ...

        It's about the power of theater to truly change people's lives, that capacity to make an indelible impression on how you look at things. ... It's not a mountain-top experience every night, but it can be. We've had people so affected by a show that they would call for months asking when we'd do it again.

        Bless her heart, Beth's had to put up with ...

        Too many late nights and too many people saying, “That was such a great show. Did you see it, Beth?” The answer's always, no because she was home with the kids.

        If you really want to see me frazzled, watch me ...

        When people don't listen. As important as good communication is in this business and with as little time as we all have, it's important to communicate clearly and quickly.

        What the Cincinnati theater scene needs most ...

        More people willing to take a chance and come out to live theater.

        What it needs least ...

        Another sports stadium.

        One thing I'd like to be asked right now ...

        For a complete list of what I think are the Playhouse's greatest hits. You get it now, in no particular order: Scotland Road; Someone Who'll Watch Over Me; Beehive; Tapestry; Wit; Thunder Knocking On the Door; Treasure Island; All in the Timing; The Wingfield Trilogy; Billy Bishop Goes to War; Stand Up Tragedy; and To Kill a Mockingbird.

        One Playhouse moment I'll never forget ...

        I've forgotten. No, it would be working with Chris Payne on the Playhouse mural. It was a remarkable experience.


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