Robbie Kristel has spent much of the spring and fall thinking about how to use twenty-two performers and an artistic and design team to tell an age-old story of the power of love in the energetic musical Once on This Island. We asked him a few questions about himself and about directing the show at Four County.
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in Glens Falls, New York, on the Southern tip of the Adirondack Mountains. I was born into a large Irish Catholic family with eight half-siblings that were all at least twelve years older than me. Both my parents were teachers for Glens Falls City Schools. For a small town in upstate New York, there was a vibrant art community with a world-class art museum, several theatres nearby and Saratoga Performing Arts Center only fifteen minutes away.
I discovered theatre my junior year and fell in love instantly. I learned as much as I could while also being heavily involved in school activities such as volunteering, organizing events and being a three-sport varsity athlete. Eventually, I went to college at SUNY Oswego for education where I continued as a varsity athlete until injury forced me to give up sports forever. I rediscovered theatre and added a major. After graduating in December 2013, I looked for jobs and ran a theatre group for inner city youths. I moved to Virginia in 2014 with my fiancé to take a job at Orange County High School teaching history and directing the drama program.
How did you first come to know about and work with Four County Players?
I first heard about Four County Players from Noal Bastian (director of 4CP’s Godspell and The Twenty-fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) who was one of my mentors at OCHS when I started. He spoke about the true community atmosphere and encouraged me to audition for Macbeth. I was cast and served as assistant director
What do you find interesting about Once on This Island?
I love the true ensemble aspect of the show. The ensemble is on stage for 2/3 of the songs, which is more than some principal characters. I find shows that have the cast working throughout much more interesting to work on and a lot more rewarding. The amazing music and wonderfully talented cast don’t hurt the show either.
What is your favorite part of rehearsal?
My favorite part of rehearsal is when the actors have the show memorized and we are just working on scenes. It is very hard to explain why I enjoy this part, but removing the scripts just frees the whole process up. It is as if I can actually see the characters come to life and actors making connections.
What do you think will most impress audiences about this production?
The talent of the cast. This is a true ensemble show that requires a dedicated cast and this cast stepped up to the challenge. They were called almost every night during the rehearsal process, and they showed up, worked extremely hard, and had fantastic attitudes the whole time. I am blown away by this group, and I believe audiences will be as well.
Tell me a few random facts the cast and crew don’t already know about you?
1) I am a HUGE sports fan (Go Red Sox and Celtics!!!)
2) I am a major gamer. I love PC and Playstation games. (My favorites include NBA 2K, Dark Souls, Skyrim, Total War Series, and Shadow of Mordor).
3) When I was growing up, I had a really debilitating stutter. I could barely communicate and eventually got it under control with the help of theatre.
4) My favorite theatrical shows are: Musical- Matilda, Play- Waiting for Godot (I have seen both on Broadway.)
5) My secret dream is to get an MFA in directing so that I can become a college professor.