Four years ago this month Robin Frome landed a coveted position as President and Artistic Director of the Sherman Playhouse. In the world of theater, this is no ordinary feat.
In an interview with Frome, he elaborated on why the Sherman Playhouse role is one of distinction. “Regarding the coveted aspect, when you graduate with a theater degree, your success is not measured only by which type of position you’re in, such as getting a successful acting role. Instead, it’s all about whether or not you are still doing what you studied in school. That’s the measure of success. It’s validity. The more valid you are the more you are in your field and you’re looking for the prime gig. What is the prime gig? It’s the one that will keep you going. The Playhouse is my prime gig,” he said.
Frome brings to the Sherman Playhouse a professional career that spans 24 years. He has a Master of Arts degree in Dramatic Literature from Wesleyan University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from the University of Connecticut in Storrs. He is also known throughout the region for being a talented director, actor, and theater teacher.
Frome was attracted to the leadership and administrative role at the Sherman Playhouse to hone his skills in theater management. He also enjoys being “Mr. Balance.” “Because I am the President of a Board [at the Sherman Playhouse] that is so excited and passionate about a 90-year-old staple in the northwest theater community, I like managing their wants and needs. This is very interesting to me. I am the individual, the live theater guy, that really cherishes and tries to keep as much of the old school values as possible. At the same time, I am modernizing the Playhouse. Before me, there was no internet, no advertising, no printing, and no communication, and now they have it with me,” he said.
Frome added, “the Sherman Playhouse relies solely on patrons. I am balancing that with an age of immediate communication and instant gratification. This is the next challenge. How do you get someone to get up off the couch to go see a show at a live theater? Regional theaters are suffering from this phenomenon. Nowadays, most theaters are no longer expecting to make a profit. They are expected to break even and just keep going. Whereas, the Sherman Playhouse had a very healthy profit at the end of this fiscal year. So we are still doing something right since I’ve been here. We are still begging and borrowing for costumes, lighting, and expertise, and this says a lot about the community. They will still come out.” Frome also pointed out how fifty years ago everything was volunteer. “Now, we pay for a web designer, a ticketing service, and a house manager / reservationist. We’re trying to keep it as community based as possible but volunteerism continues to decline and this changes the budget.”
Frome also takes pride in managing renovation projects and making capital improvements at the Playhouse. For instance, he initiated getting a master technical theater expert onboard, which has improved all aspects of the technical theater. Last week, the theater finally got new seat cushions for the hardwood benches. He enjoys searching for new talent as well.
Frome reminisced about a few “firsts” at the Playhouse. “Artistically speaking, when I directed ‘The Maids,’ I have never experienced a more creative process in my history of directing and that was done here. In my first radio play, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ I had some of the best talent to work with here. I have a lot of firsts at the Playhouse,” he said.
What some residents and theatergoers may not realize is that, since 1992, Frome has directed well over 200 productions throughout the area. More of his all-time favorites are “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Uncle Vanya,” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” at the Main Street Theater in Woodbury; “Jekyll and Hyde” at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury; and “The Irish Curse” at Theaterworks in New Milford.
As for Frome’s acting experience, he recently played Caterpillar in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in the winter of 2015 / 2016 and Birling in “An Inspector Calls” in 2012 at the Sherman Playhouse. Another favorite role was playing Gus in “The Dumbwaiter” at the Main Street Theater in Woodbury.
Adding to his repertoire, Frome is a theater teacher for students of all ages, young and old. He offers private tutoring programs and group lessons. Prior to the Playhouse, he was a Drama Director at Memorial Middle School in Middlebury and a Production Director and Producer at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury for several years. He specializes in audition techniques for high school level students who want to audition for collegiate programs. “Part of my teaching is training the students to get into collegiate theater programs,” he said. “College theater students are inspiring because they keep the faith and they keep doing what they love,” he added. His best tip for aspiring actors and actresses, “don’t be afraid of taking a normal job while pursuing your acting career.”
At 32 Below, a performing arts center in New Milford, Frome teaches an improv class to 4th and 6th grade students as well. He has also taught theater programs at the Sherman Jewish Community Center (SJCC).
When asked about what his pet peeves are from a president, director, actor, and teacher perspective, he said “I dislike apathy on all levels. Apathy and narcissism.”
Some of Frome’s influences are John Cleese because of his sense of comic timing; Helena Bonham-Carter because of her versatility and absolute commitment to her character; and Director Peter Weir because his vision always brings out the most truth about the human condition.
The zaniest play Frome ever worked on, was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Nonnewaug High School in early 2000. “The last scene is a play within a play where people ‘the mechanicals’ where tough boys playing women and base antics were happening.” He said “it was basic PG 13 stuff that went overboard and it was all in good humor.”
Frome’s interest in theater began to take shape since early childhood. As a “theater brat,” his father and mother were heavily involved in theater and they gave him the joy for theater. With humor, he said, “my parents forced me to be in the crowd scenes and little boy scenes. My father started writing his own material so he had me play a few parts. My parents met at Summer Stock, a professional theater playhouse in upstate New York in the 1950s. My father got into educational theater after a brief career in Manhattan with the likes of Joan Rivers, Paul Lynde, and Uta Hagen. They were in a troop together in Greenwich Village.”
The one play that really ignited Frome’s passion for theater was seeing “Noises Off” at the Sharon Playhouse. “This is a fine example of what theater could be. There was so much craft in this one production. The comic timing and the set design were perfect. There was total actor commitment,” he shared.
Frome currently lives in New Milford with his actress wife Stacy Lee Frome. They met five years ago at Theaterworks and it was love at first sight. His 14-year-old son, William, does not have an interest in pursuing a theater career like his father. However, “William is very politically minded and he is turning into a very good speaker with lots of eloquence,” he said.
There’s always something “in the works” with Frome. In addition to Sherman Playhouse responsibilities, he’s directing “Ways and Means” at the SJCC Dinner Theater, opening on June 11. He is also working on writing and directing a one-act play entitled, “As it Were” with two local actors, and this will be performed at the Performing Arts Center in New Milford.
When asked lightheartedly if he has any other hidden talents, Frome divulged, “I play percussion like bongos, drums, and congas.” With a smile, he shared how he likens himself to a cobbler who cobbles together different jobs to make a living. To say that Frome can always be found front row, center stage, and behind the scenes in the world of theater is an understatement!
A short version of this article appeared in the Town Tribune and it’s part of the “In the Spotlight” series. Article and playhouse photos are by Alicia Sakal. Family and theater photos are contributed.