Published in KPBS On Air Magazine April 1993

The only sensible, defensible reaction to the devastating effect of AIDS on the artistic community is a Creative Response.   San Diego artists have banded together under that banner, and for the second year, the umbrella arts service organization called Creative Response is sponsoring “Together Again,” a performing arts fund-raiser to benefit local AIDS agencies. (Last year, they gave $15,000 to five widely varied AIDS education/service groups).   The model is the “Broadway Cares” event.   But the effort is pure San Diego . For the second year, acclaimed and highly visible local director Will Roberson will stage the event, which takes to the Civic Theatre on April 19.

“It’s incredibly exciting to see the most varied and talented creative artists and performers in San Diego all in one room,” says the 34 year-old Roberson, with his usual rapid-fire ebullience.   “These are extraordinary people, representing dance, music, theater, jazz, opera. It’s a real community effort. No one is getting paid. Not even the union people, the stage hands. We get the theater, the brochures, everything donated. It’s beautiful. Everyone comes together for a really good cause. It’s unifying and inspiring.”

The final list of performers is never solidified until the bitter end, because of schedule conflicts and last-minute gigs.   But there should be a number of repeats from last year. Like the Malashock and Isaac & McCaleb dance companies and the jazz team Jimmy and Jeannie Cheatham. Roberson hopes to have the original cast of “Forever Plaid” back again, too.   They were the smash-hit of the evening last year, and they’re anxious to return.   Roberson expects that the national touring cast of “Falsettos” will come over from the Globe. The award-winning musical deals poignantly and humorously with love and family in the era of AIDS. “It’s a great show,” Roberson crows. “And it has wonderful resonance for the event.”

Comic Kathy Nijimy, native San Diegan who’s made it Off-Broadway (“The Kathy and Mo Show”) and in the movies (“Sister Act”), is slated to be emcee, if her shooting schedule permits. And the touring cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which will be at Copley Symphony Hall the week of April 13, may just pop in. Other plans are for a San Diego all-star jazz group and a huge, county-wide community chorus. Nobody knows for sure who’ll ultimately turn up on the evening of the 19th. “It’s like the old days,” Roberson chuckles. “Hey kids, let’s put on a show. It’s like summer stock in a big old barn.”

Never one to be idle, Roberson has a number of other projects in the works. His co-production of “Suds,” the nostalgia musical that took San Diego by storm in 1987, will probably be done in Louisville this month. And, after five years of painstaking rights negotiations (because of all the old sixties songs it includes), the piece may finally be published. It’s already been produced in Toronto , San Francisco and Arizona , and it ran for 5 1/2 months off-Broadway, despite lackluster reviews.

Roberson recently directed the national tour of “Porgy and Bess”. His latest directing effort for the Mystery Cafe opened in February.   And, in association with the production of Ibsen’s “Ghosts”, he’s teaching a class for the Globe/USD Master of Fine Arts program. In the eleven years since he moved to San Diego , Roberson has been working in the theater constantly. Not bad for a guy who never even went to college, heading straight from high school to translator work in the Navy.

All his theater experience has been on-the-job training. He started out as stage manager at the Old Globe, then convinced Jack O’Brien to take him on as Assistant Director. He became producing manager of the San Diego Repertory Theatre, and then began a spate of directing successes: “The Mystery of Irma Vep” at the Rep, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” at the Globe, and at the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre, “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune”, “The Heidi Chronicles”, “A Life in the Theater” and “Lips Together, Teeth Apart”.

As a freelance director, he spends six months a year on the road, and gets tired of living out of a suitcase.   He’d like to settle down in San Diego with one theater, “but all the good jobs are taken.” He’d like to get back to his family roots of owning a horse ranch. Maybe he’ll branch into TV, maybe think about Hollywood .   Only a few plans haven’t panned out.   This May, he was to direct and co-produce the San Diego premiere of the Off-Broadway hit, “Ruthless”, but the New York producers made it too expensive. Now he and co-producer Julia Holiday (of the Mystery Cafe) are “looking ferociously for a quirky little musical to run a long time.”  

Simultaneously, he’s planning for the July opening of “Romeo and Juliet” at Shakespeare L.A., the outdoor venue where he’s resident director. He’s working with his mentor Jack O’Brien on a revival of “Damn Yankees”.   He seems insatiable.   “It’s partly the unpredictable nature of the business, and partly my own nature,” he confesses.   “I have a huge appetite, a lot of energy. I want to do it all.”  

©1993 Patté Productions Inc.