Friday, September 18, 2020

Person of the Week

Robyn Genzano Carries on Passion for Theater


Robyn Genzano is an active volunteer with the East Haven Arts Commission, which is hosting virtual classes this summer. Photo courtesy Robyn Genzano

Robyn Genzano is an active volunteer with the East Haven Arts Commission, which is hosting virtual classes this summer. (Photo courtesy Robyn Genzano )

Growing up watching her mother Cindy Genzano direct shows at North Branford High School (NBHS), Robyn Genzano has fond memories of watching rehearsals, interacting with students, and seeing the production come together. Robyn grew up in East Haven, attending East Haven Academy, Melillo Middle School, and East Haven High School (EHHS).

She notes that with “two older sisters, I’m the one that theater stuck with,” says Robyn. “I grew up around theater, watching my parents build something miraculous out of nothing and I’ve been in awe of that ever since. It has fueled me and inspired me and there’s part of me that’s always seeking to bring theatrical opportunities to people in the same way.”

Robyn now lives North Branford with her husband Richard Genzano, and their daughter Leona. Though she and her husband knew of each other going to the same schools growing up, they didn’t start dating until they were reacquainted through theater as adults. Now Robyn is remembering her childhood as she shares her love of theater with Leona.

“I have all these lovely pictures of her when she was an itty bitty baby with her asleep on my arm or while I was baby-wearing,” says Robyn. “Now she’s 2 ½ and she learns the songs and dances with us. It’s amazing to have her around it.”

Robyn’s East Haven roots have held firm as she has been volunteering with the East Haven Arts Commission (EHAC) since it was founded, alongside her childhood friend Kari Collins.

The East Haven Arts Commission was reinvigorated in 2009 with the company working to renew the arts scene in East Haven. In 2012, the group produced its first show, continuing through the years with one or two each summer depending on demand.

This year, however, COVID threw a kink into the plans. Cindy Genzano was slated to direct her final show with NBHS—Mamma Mia—and Collins was directing a show at EHHS. Both were put on hold after months of preparation.

“I help my mom with her show at NBHS and she and Kari weren’t able to put on their spring musicals,” says Robyn. “[For EHAC], we hadn’t gone through the process of selecting show or advertising auditions. We all had this void and it was really sad.

“We also saw the kids we worked with feeling sad and starting to the feel the impact of not having this thing we do every summer,” adds Robyn. “We were in this scary place where we didn’t know the future of our industry—they announced Broadway was closed for rest of year.”

While they knew they couldn’t run their summer theater program in person and hold EHAC’s eighth show, they knew they wanted to find an alternative solution. Having worked with the EHAC for the past decade, Robyn and others involved with the group began brainstorming about ways to engage those interested in the arts while following the safety guidelines surrounding COVID. They created a series of virtual classes.

“Kari came to me with the idea of doing some kind of online programming and putting together her group of people to teach,” says Robyn. “I work for a performance company, so I had a ton of experience running online events.”

Robyn works as the director of operations and community engagement for the Judy Dworin Performance Project, an arts non-profit in Hartford. She is the only full-time employee on the four-person staff. Robyn not only does the digital event planning but works on the non-profit’s general operations as well.

A Return to Roots

Robyn wasn’t always sure she would pursue theater as a career. She began by studying law and after taking the LSAT, she changed course, earning a master’s in arts administration, learning to manage the behind-the-scenes aspect of theater and non-profit management.

“Theater really has been my passion and there’s nothing I love more than to share what I’m passionate about with other people,” says Robyn. “Between work and theater, they’re both so all-consuming, but theater dips into the hobby side for me, for I enjoy it and I love spending every spare moment with my daughter.”

Robyn’s experience with online events proved crucial this summer as EHAC quickly pivoted to continue to provide theater opportunities. EHAC saw success in its first session, offering programs such as short-play production, technique for the actor, movement for musical theater, introduction to tap dance, creative writing workshop, and individual vocal technique.

As the first session progressed, EHAC decided to celebrate the achievements of those involved by holding a culminating online live performance. The group also launched a second session.

“We’re hoping we will be able to have our culminating session in person or a hybrid of that and online where the kids may be able to enter the auditorium to do their monologues or live scenes,” says Robyn. “We just held the first session’s performance and it was wonderful to see. It’s been pretty amazing to keep the connection alive as we’ve worked a lot of these kids with for a long time. It’s been really meaningful to keep that connection to them and be able to stay with them through the arts.”

Having been involved in theater for her whole life, Robyn has seen the benefits, not only for herself but for others as well. She has seen people grow and build self-esteem and that has been one of her favorite parts of theater.

“The self esteem boost is one of biggest things that warms my heart—when kids go from being shy to getting up there on stage and you see a side you never thought you’d see,” says Robyn. “When kids and people do things they never thought they’d be doing in front of an audience is a pretty amazing confidence boost and I love seeing that.

“Theater has also been an amazing way for me to build relationships throughout life,” adds Robyn. “I’ve seen lifelong friendships formed time and again. When you’re in a show, you become like family. You feel like you found your people, the people you can be yourself around. I’ve never found anything like it any other realm.”

Robyn encourages anyone who has an interest in taking part in EHAC by volunteering or by serving on the commission. The organization is 100 percent volunteer based.

“We’re always looking for people who are interested in the arts, not just theater,” says Robyn. “Anyone who’s interested or inspired should reach out.”

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Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .

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