Acting Company Alums Bring a Touch of Broadway to Olean High Stage
Highlights from News in Olean Times Herald
by Tom Dinki Nov. 3, 2016
OLEAN — Tom Alan Robbins stood on the Olean High School auditorium stage Wednesday in front of several dozen students as they sang “Wells Fargo Wagon,” part of “The Music Man,” a production they’ll put on next week.
Robbins led the way, dancing along with students, telling them where to look and offering tips he learned from his years on Broadway in productions like “The Lion King.” Make some kind of hand gesture before starting to sing so the audience knows where to look, he told the students with solo lines.
“I see things I’ve done with them and they’re able to hold onto them, and the next time they do the scene you can see it's come a further distance than it was the last time they did it,” Robbins said. “It’s great to see that growth.”
The OHS auditorium was infused with a little bit of Broadway this week, as Robbins and his wife Leslie Geraci, both members of The Acting Company, spent time advising students on acting, singing, dancing, poetry and Shakespeare. The couple were brought to OHS with a grant through the school’s Liberty Partnerships Program.
Nick and Lesley Patrone, who run the Olean Theatre Workshop and OHS’ theater productions, have used the grant to bring in veterans of New York City-based theater in years past as well. Lesley Patrone said she’s seen a lot of enthusiasm from students this week when they’re working with Robbins and Geraci.
“The kids have been really excited, of course,” she said. “They responded to the fact he had been on Broadway. Everyone was really excited about that.”
Robbins said while his wife has been teaching through The Acting Company for years, he had never taught before. It was she who convinced him to come to Olean, telling him teaching forces you to “crystallize” your thoughts and break down what you know to its “essence.” “Having never taught before, it is interesting to try and figure out what is useful to a young actor to help them with their performance,” Robbins said.
Robbins never got the opportunity to learn from a Broadway performer while he was in high school. He grew up in a small town near Canton, Ohio, far away from any theater centers — perhaps not much different from Olean.
“Just as they do here, we had some dedicated teachers who love theater and who really knock themselves out to put on one or two shows a year and have a drama club,” he said. “If I hadn’t done that in high school, I wouldn’t have ever chosen it as a career.”
While Robbins worked with the musical students, Leslie Geraci spent time in the classrooms with students learning the work of William Shakespeare. Robbins said his wife was able to work with students on several Shakespearean plays, including “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” — teaching them the right way to learn and read Shakespeare.
She also helped students prepare for the Poetry Out Loud competition in Olean that’s slated for December. The top two performers of that event will go on to compete in Buffalo and could eventually compete in Albany.
Robbins said he thinks passing on what he’s learned benefits both him and the students.
“I think teaching helps you solidify what you know, and I think that feeling like you’ve given something to people makes you feel good about yourself,” he said. “And hopefully it’s a positive experience for the people who are learning as well.”
Photo credit: Tom Dinki/Olean Times Herald.