Story last updated at 1/21/2009 - 11:45 am
JUNEAU - Anyone who sees Roblin Gray Davis perform will know that he loves to move. He currently plays a very animated Martin Luther in Perseverance Theatre's production of "Wittenberg."
Davis may have been born for the theatre. He came from a family whose favorite pastimes were playing games like charades and creating "shows" together-very abstract kinds of shows with dancing and poetry, Davis said. He also recalled the uncles on his father's side of the family dressing up and performing various sketches for Davis and his siblings when they went to visit. He described his father's family as having an "interesting old school kind of creative edge" that has been passed through the generations. His siblings got the creative genes as well. His sister is a creative writer and poet, and his brother is a dancer and also works in theatre.
Davis recalled going to many plays and performances as a child growing up in Anchorage, as well as attending the Sitka Fine Arts camp for several summers. It was there that he met a friend who is now his wife, Elizabeth Pisel-Davis. She is now the managing director at Perseverance Theatre.
The couple recently returned to Juneau in October after they spent the past two years in London doing graduate studies in Lecoq-based actor created theatre. The program in London involved intense study about performance and compelling theatre, and Davis studied alongside other students from about 17 different countries.
"To encounter different cultures and different people from all over the world and try to find an artistic common ground with them was extraordinary," Davis said. "It's nice to have those different perspectives. It makes theatre more interesting as well, to have that cross-cultural dialogue." He has hopes that some of his colleagues from the London school will be able to visit Juneau in the future for further collaboration projects.
One aspect of theatre Davis has been focusing on in his studies is what he calls "movement theatre." He described it as a way to contact our imagination not just intellectually, but through the movement of the body. He contrasted it with the idea of creating by sitting down at a table and intentionally thinking.
"When you remove your ego in a sense, remove your mind, and allow your body to be creative through movement, then you can discover some deeper ideas, deeper themes that might be a reality for you as a person coming from your subconscious," Davis said.
The technique concentrates on how body language will affect the space around the performers in relation to the audience.
"My interest in movement theatre is to take the audience on a journey that really works down in the guts of the audience," Davis said. "It's not just an intellectual thing."
His current involvement in "Wittenberg" has given him a chance to move audiences' guts as well as their minds.
"This part is very enjoyable to perform. Like, really enjoyable," Davis said. "The ideas in the play are very interesting ideas, and I think very universal ideas (that) I think we can all relate to."
Though he had a hard time naming a favorite of all of the productions he's been a part of, he did admit that the character of Luther has been one of the more exciting roles he has had a chance to play.
His next role will be that of Baranov in "Battles of Fire and Water." This play was written by Dave Hunsaker, Davis' current "Wittenberg" co-star. The two have worked together in various forms for some years, but this is the first time they have shared the stage.
"He's a rich performer with a great imagination and very inventive," Hunsaker said. "He's a very physical performer, so it's been fun to watch him."
Davis has a rich interest in making masks and studying mask theatre. In training, using masks is very helpful for actors in developing body language, he said.
"It kind of concentrates everything in a way, kind of like a microscopic lens that really helps you to centralize what you're doing, getting rid of superfluous things and habits that we have that don't necessarily serve the character that we're performing on stage," he said. "It's very important on the stage to be aware and to craft what you're doing with the rest of your body, not just your voice and face."
Davis' favorite part about being an actor and creator is the process of discovering what a show or role is about and how then to best serve that idea. His upcoming challenge in changing roles for the next play will be to create a totally different character, not to be associated with his past performances.
"(I want) the audience (to) enjoy the character and not me, the performer," Davis said.
"One of the greatest things I learned in graduate studies was really developing this relationship with my imagination," Davis said. "Not to say that I see the creative imagination as a divinity of some kind, but I do believe that our imaginations, they're not ours. It's not my imagination, it's my connection to some kind of human creative place, if that makes sense, and we can tap into that creative spark." What really solidified this for him was the act of collaboration, which was a huge part of the program in London. He was constantly working together with people from different cultures with different definitions of what art and theatre should be. In that act of cooperative creating, he discovered that when everyone in the group opened themselves up to find a common ground, similar ideas would come from each of the individual members.
"When that happens, there's a synchronicity," Davis said. "That means you're tapping into something that's much greater than yourself. When that happens, you can come up with some very good ideas, some very powerful ideas, much more powerful and compelling than my small understanding of the world."
Davis has many hopes on the horizon. He wants to have an opportunity at some point to produce movement theatre in Juneau, perhaps even accompanied by live musicians. He is also teaching Theatre Appreciation at the University of Alaska Southeast. He will continue to express himself at Perseverance, while taking time to spend at home with his wife and children. He also enjoys singing and playing his ukulele.
"I have an enormous amount of respect for Roblin and am excited to see what he does next," Hunsaker said. "He'll greatly enrich this community as an artist."