Mabel Robinson is dancing in new direction

Mabel Robinson is dancing in new direction
December 10
00:00 2015
Photo by Erin Mizelle for the Winston-Salem Chronicle
Mabel Robinson
N.C. Black Rep artistic director leaving full time to enjoy life
By Timothy Ramsey
For The Chronicle

Mabel Robinson was smiling after the beginning of the end last week. She had just directed the opening performance of  the North Carolina Black Repertory Company’s version of  “Black Nativity.” It would be her last opening performance as artistic director with the company.

In 1984, Robinson came to Winston-Salem to teach at the N.C. School of the Arts and has since retired. She found an opportunity to give back to the community and to sharpen her skills as a director/choreographer/playwright with the N.C. Black Rep. The award-winner will take her final bow as artistic director with the company at the end of this year. She said she felt it was time and wanted to retire while she was still young enough to enjoy life to the fullest.

“Thank you NCBRC for an opportunity to elevate and present professional black theatre to the broader community and to help develop the creative abilities of our local artists,” Robinson said in a statement.

She told The Chronicle that it has not been easy to be a black professional in the performing arts.

For more than 40 years, Robinson has worked in music, dance and theatre venues while gaining over 70 awards in theatre.

Robinson said that when she first started in theatre, blacks had to be two or three times better than their white counterparts in order to win roles. But as the years progressed, roles became easier because of regression of racial prejudices and blacks writing their own plays and opening their own companies. She went on to say that in the late ’80s to early ’90s, that trend seemed to come to a halt.

As a way to stem the trend, within the Black Rep she launched the Teen Theatre Ensemble, which gives local teens the opportunity to work with theatre professionals to develop their talents and explore the many options available for professional careers in the performing arts industry.

The youth are currently writing an original script with the help of industry professional Samm-Art Williams, who wrote for the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” TV show and was executive producer for the “Martin” TV show as well as a veteran of the theatre stage. She hopes this will entice more youth to join the realm of black theatre.

Robinson has been at the helm since the passing of the company’s founder and original artistic director Larry Leon Hamlin in 2007. She had been with the theatre company as a choreographer, director, and playwright previously.  This year’s run of Langston Hughes “Black Nativity” musical, which she choreographed and directed, will be her last in that capacity.  She also starred in the role as Mary in the original run of “Black Nativity.” Robinson said she initially went to see the play, and as the original cast member who was to play Mary did not show for some reason, a member of the cast who knew her asked if she could step in and play Mary for the night. She did such an amazing job she won the part outright.

She said that even though she has worn many hats in the world of entertainment over the years, there is not one she will miss particularly because she will miss them all in some way, shape, or form.

Robinson is a native of Savannah, Georgia and moved to New York as a youth with her family. She was introduced to dance at a young age as an alternative to being a “turnkey kid.” She is a graduate of the NYC High School of the Performing Arts and the Julliard School of music.

Her career spans many formats such as Broadway, opera houses and television. Robinson also appeared in the movie “The Wiz” and “Cotton Comes to Harlem.”

She said her plans for the future are to continue to work with the North Carolina Black Repertory Company in a lesser role; she will leave the daily tasks to someone else.  She also wants to travel and continue to involve more youth in the theatre.  She concluded by saying that this is not the end of her career because as an artist, you never truly stop working.

Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin, president of the boardof directors for the N.C. Black Rep stated, “We have been blessed to have an artistic director with Mabel’s unique background in virtually every area of the performing arts. Our many successes over the years, including the growing prominence of the National Black Theatre Festival, would not have been possible without Mabel’s hard work and dedication to the company.  We hope that she has a rewarding and Marvtastic retirement.”


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