At some point in a dancers life, there will be a need for transition. Whether it is a complete shift from the field into another arena or a redistribution of creative energy into another area of performing arts, it will happen. Changing paths comes with excitement, fear, and at times, little to no preparation. The issue of retirement and transition of dancers is one I have been passionate about since my own in 2010, and I spent the better part of my last season chronicling about it in my blog entitled, Retiring?
Recently, I had the privilege to sit down with Canadian born Eric Robertson, a dancer/actor turned playwright and director. He has penned a new play called Gym Shorts, which premieres this May. We discussed the journey that has brought him to this transition.
- MD: Did you grow up dancing?
ER: I started dancing when I was five years old. From my understanding, there are two ways to go. One is the ballet/modern dance company route, and then there is the competitive route that might lead to Broadway shows, cruise ships, etc.—and that’s the way I went. I learned tap, jazz, and ballet. I competed starting at eight years old until I was eighteen.MD: How did you get into musical theater?
ER: Being so close to the Stratford Festival and the Toronto area, there were auditions and musicals going on all the time. It was serendipitous because I’d just turned eighteen at the time and the Stratford Festival was doing West Side Story, and they were looking for dancers. I wasn’t sure at that time if musical theater was the direction I wanted to go, but it turned into a really great career.
ER: It was. That one lasted three years. It held a lot of milestones for me. It was a national tour, so it moved me from Canada to the States—and it got me onto the Broadway stage, which was awesome.
MD: After that, what was the next step for you in your evolution?
ER: It’s funny that you say, “evolution,” because not every decision was a conscious one. They were either circumstantial, or realizations that I had. I started to feel like I was looking for a way I could be more creative than I’d been in the past. I ended up going back to the Stratford Festival (after Movin’ Out,) and doing some more musicals. I discovered that I wanted to take more control of my career and explore who I was and what I had to offer. I certainly don’t want to speak negatively of dance, but sometimes there’s a box and a conformity that you have to fit into—it wasn’t the creative outlet that I had hoped. My first instinct was to dive into the world of acting. So, I did a two-year acting conservatory program at the Barrow Group.
I took a directing course, and learned how much control the director can have in story-telling. I was never really aware of what the director did before. As performers we think “Wow! What amazing work that actor is doing”—and often times they are. What we don’t realize is how many decisions the director made, such as what they would be wearing, doing, set design…I wanted to be in the position to make those decisions. At the end of my dancing, I became less interested in who was executing the ideas, and who was coming up with the ideas. Hand in hand with this was writing.
MD: What was most challenging aspect about breaking out of dance?
ER: I’m lucky because I stayed in the performing arts. I’m still acting in addition to writing and directing. One big challenge was re-identifying myself to myself. Re-evaluating who I was. I’d always introduced myself as a dancer…But, now I get to figure out who I am. Another challenge is that I’m new to this, so I’m not making as much money as I did before. I don’t have the name I used to have. I do have the confidence I had before, but that took some time to build up as I began to gain confidence as an actor. An insightful observation my voice teacher offered was that I danced for eighteen years before I started making any money at it, so what made me think that I’d be at that same level after just two years?
MD: What inspired your new play Gym Shorts?
ER: Gym Shorts is made up of five short plays. In a way, it’s about things that happen at the gym, but in [another] way, it’s about things that don’t happen at the gym. It’s a microcosm for life. Things that would happen elsewhere are put into the gym for irony and hilarity. For example, the first play deals with a guy who comes back from the gym to find his workout buddy lifting with someone else and gets jealous. This is about exposing all the underlying themes of human emotion that due to machismo—[things] guys would never say.
It actually started years ago while I was performing in Movin’ Out. My workout partner broke his foot, so I was lifting by myself. Someone else from the show came up and asked to be my workout buddy. I, being the overly dramatic person that I am, was very conflicted by this. So, I decided to write about the funny nature of this situation. Some of the shorts are a bit more ridiculous than others, but that’s the point.
MD: What’s been the most challenging part about mounting the show?
I don’t know if it’s a challenge or fear; we’re afraid tickets won’t sell, but does that mean selling tickets is a challenge? I don’t know. Or, does it mean that we just need to work, and we are absolutely working. Does that mean it’s a challenge or just something we need to do? It’s a funny word, [challenge]. You have to define the difference between something you can’t do and something that is difficult to do.
MD: How many people are in the cast:
ER: The cast is ten men and one woman, with two male understudies and one female.
MD: Has it been fun over all? Has it been what you were hoping it would be?
ER: Every aspect has been more fun than I expected. Watching people take my words and make them their own is amazing. Some parts weren’t completely written during casting, and I would see an actor and think “Woah, I’d better make words that are as good as his acting.” At the end of my bio I said, “Thank you to everyone involved for helping to make this reality a dream.” It’s true. This is a reality. My entire life, my reality has been as a dancer. My reality now is as an actor, playwright, and a director. So, this is not a dream turning into a reality, it’s a reality that I’m making into my own.
- May 10th-26
- The 777 Theatre
- 777 8th Ave.
For more information and tickets, click here.