Michael Robbins

By Philip PearceIMG_7779

MICHAEL ROBBINS has appeared locally in more than 120 major character roles ranging from Moliere’s Miser Harpegon to Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

But he admits his first public performances had less to do with launching a theater career than augmenting his meager boyhood allowance back in Great Depression days.

Aged six or seven, young Mike spotted some lively black kids shuffle-dancing on the streets of his native Atlantic City. “People were throwing showers of pennies and nickels at them. I decided to join as the only blond, blue-eyed member of the dance troupe.” It worked well enough for the next couple of evenings, till his father, alerted by some neighbors, yanked his son abruptly out of the dance session and escorted him briskly home. “I have never danced since,” Michael told me last week.

Halting the shuffle-dancing didn’t mean his father or anyone else in the Robbins family wasn’t a live theater fan. Atlantic City was still a major theatrical tryout spot. Michael’s father had a job driving a jitney that would carry posters for shows heading for Broadway and the family would get free tickets to see the big stars of the 1930s.

Weirdest of these, not Broadway bound but headlining a minstrel show on Atlantic City pier, was Lou Costello. “He did all the familiar routines like ‘Who’s on First?’ but in blackface while beating a tambourine. It was bizarre.”

Michael’s own stage work grew gradually out of nearly 40 years in advertising in Philadelphia, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Monterey. “We started doing radio ads and demos. To be honest, I had to work with some actors who were so dumb I started to think, ‘Hey, I can do this better than you can.’” and he did, touting the virtues of products like Plymouth cars and Firestone tires.

Regular scripted stage work came later, after he and his wife Margaret moved from Los Angeles to the Monterey Peninsula in the 1980s. “I was delighted to find so much live theater in and around Monterey and decided to give it a try.”

His first shot was a production of Amadeus directed by Peter DeBono. Michael was part of the ensemble, spoke only a line or two, but was immediately spotted as a new talent by, among others, the ever-watchful (late) Marcia Hovick. She rocketed Mike from chorus to title role in a Staff Players Rep production of The Miser.

He went on to work at every major theater then in operation in the area, sometimes rehearsing one show while another was still having its run. “I’ve been blessed with an understanding wife,” he says. “Margaret attends every opening, whether she likes the play or not.”

His favorite role became Tevye in a Forest Theatre Guild production of Fiddler on the Roof in the late 1980s.

IMG_7743“My thirty years of theater have been the happiest of my life,” he told me. “And it’s become technically so much more advanced. Lights and sound all so much better. So much more space backstage for the actors, too. PacRep does some wonderful things, if they could only get Buddy Holly out of their system. I’m not a Rock ‘n Roll fan.

“And MPC. continues to do fine work. If they could only get a budget! But slashed by 80%?! It’s been brutal. But you know that.”

As for the range of available roles, Mike Robbins admits it gets narrower at his age. “Two of my most recent parts were ‘Dirty Old Man’ in Sweet Charity at MPC and ‘Old Geezer’ in Lysistrata at The Western Stage.

“I also recently answered a call for someone to work with a CSUMB student who was making a film for a movie class. The assignment was to play the role of ‘Death.’ I applied, some girl showed up and took my picture, but I didn’t even get a call-back. I guess that’s a sign I’ve still got some vitality, right?”


Photos by Melissa Chin-Parker

Micha Scott

By Scott MacClellandMicha 2012

MICHA SCOTT DANCES! this coming Saturday morning at Veterans Memorial in Santa Cruz. But she won’t be alone. She’ll be joined by four more professional dancers. And her program will be “totally interactive.” Kids in the audience will be invited to join the dancers on stage “to get a completely different on-stage perspective.”

But don’t take from this opening event in the 2015-16 monthly Tandy Beal ArtSmart Family Concert Series an idea that it’s merely entertainment for children and families. Rather, it’s “Hi-Octane dancing.” Micha Scott is a veteran who traveled the world for over 13 years as a senior member with the renowned Garth Fagan Dance. During that time she also taught dance master classes, including domestically at the Rochester School of the Arts, Santa Clara University, UC Santa Cruz and the State University of New York Brockport. She has fulfilled numerous choreographic commissions.

With two teens and one pre-teen at home, Scott realized that being on the road all the time with the Fagan company was incompatible with the needs of her husband and children. She retired and the family relocated to Santa Cruz in 2008. “My first love is the stage,” she says. “The three distinctions of my work are performing artist, teacher and choreographer. But while they inform each other, my first love is performing.”
It would be inevitable that Scott’s path would intersect with Tandy Beal’s. “She took a dance class from me and asked me to join a show she was doing,” Scott told me. “I was hesitant and worried about what that would be like. It turned out to my delight that Tandy is a consummate professional. Every time I work with her I learn a hundred things.” Scott danced in Beal’s last two productions, 40 Odd Years and HereAfterHere. (The latter also included Scott’s two daughters.) “Tandy Beal is the only professional choreographer I’ve worked with besides Garth Fagan. She’s a dear friend and mentor.”

Micha (pronounced Mee-sha) Scott began formal dance training at age 3. “My mother tells that I’ve always danced. I never wanted to be anything but a dancer.” Her first dance class in school was a combination of ballet, tap and gymnastics. Scott was born at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County; her parents split when she was two. She spent her youth relocating, to Ohio, Florida, Belleview near Seattle, Santa Barbara, and, at age 18, Rochester, “for no common reason.” She was a flute player in school bands. By tenth grade she had attended seven different schools. Until age 16, she danced ballet strictly. “At Cal Arts, Valencia, I was exposed to modern dance for the first time when I saw the Fagan company and took a master class with them,” adding, “I knew instantly that’s what I wanted to do. I dropped ballet and studied for nine months when Garth invited me to join his company.” She danced with them for 10 years, took five years off to have her third child then returned for three more. “It was the most extraordinary experience, touring the world, working with incredible musicians like Wynton Marsalis and the late Don Pullen.” With Fagan, she appeared as a soloist in an episode of the PBS series, Dance in America. She also remembers working with composer David Diamond while at Rochester.

In addition to her work at UC Santa Cruz, Scott taught and created new choreographic commissions at Cabrillo College. She held a four-month dance residency at Monterey High School and has for the last seven years been resident choreographer at Mountain Charter School in Soquel. As dance instructor at Mount Madonna School in rural Watsonville she choreographs their big annual Ramayana performance event. More recently, she has taken on the youth modern dance program as artistic director of children’s programming at the Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center in Santa Cruz, whose founder is Scott’s sister-in-law, Cat Willis. They met long ago in Rochester. (Scott engineered the ‘in-law’ link. “Cat and my brother met at my wedding.”) In 2013, they appeared in a TED-X program at Santa Cruz’ Hotel Paradox. (To watch it, click on the link below.)

MSD2Above, Scott’s dance colleagues for the upcoming performance are Jessa DeLancey, Lila Salhov, Lyndia Peralta, Mercedes Johnson. And she is thrilled that her 11-year-old daughter will join them for the last five minutes.

To watch the TEDxSanta Cruz event, click HERE

Photos by Cliff Warner