During the Great Depression in the United States, my parents lost everything. My father ended up selling apples in the streets of a small city in New Hampshire. One of the ways Mom and Dad kept warm on the weekends was to go to the Opera House, where for 10 cents they could both sit in the warm theatre and see a vaudeville show, a matinee, a vaudeville show and the evening film.
As they were getting back on their feet, I was born in 1941. We didn’t have pre-schools, kindergartens, day-care centers, so as a babe-in-arms, I went to the theatre. I saw people in color doing wonderful things, dancing, singing, telling jokes, doing acrobatics, then they’d get big in black and white on the screen and they’d go on remarkable adventures, get involved in dramatic relationships, in intrigue, battles, love affairs. It was a stunning way to grow up.
By 1945, my father had taught me my alphabet and to count using the American flag, counting the stars and stripes, and he and my mother read to me every night before bedtime. Both of them only had an eighth-grade educations and were bound and determined I would go to college. So, when I was five, my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said, “An actor!” He said, “A lawyer?”, and I said, “No, an actor!” His answer to me was a gift. He said, “How do we do it?” I remember I said, “Well, an actor sings and dances and talks.” My parents got me dance lessons with the only dance teacher in our small town of Etna, New Hampshire, a ballroom teacher, who remained a friend for life, and singing lessons with a retired opera singer who was the pianist for a local church. And so began my life in the arts.
I got involved in community theatre, church theatre, singing on a local radio station and in churches by the time I was six, and on the 4th of July in the Dartmouth Stadium, then in school theatre, college and university theatre. I got a full scholarship to Dartmouth College for four years, graduating in 1963, cum laude, and full-tuition scholarships to the Yale School of Drama, graduating in 1967 with an MFA in Acting, Directing and Design with High Honours. After graduate school, I went to New York City, did five shows, got involved in repertory theatre, and got jobs chairing Acting-Directing Programs at the Universities of Oklahoma and Calgary. Former students are Ed Harris, Larry Drake, KT Sullivan, Lynne Backus, Catherine Tambini, Tom Crutchfield, Carlene Jones, Lana Skauge. In all that time, I was drawing, painting, designing, writing poetry, creating characters on stage, radio, television. Then, in 1977, I founded Sun.Ergos, A Company of Theatre and Dance, with Dana Luebke from the Minnesota Dance Theatre and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
Since then, the company, whose mandate is ‘to celebrate the differences and recognize the similarities among peoples and cultures through timeless stories expressed in the arts of theatre, dance and visual arts’ in order to expose, confront and challenge our human foibles and prejudices, has traveled the World, As Sun.Ergos, Dana and I have taught, performed and done research in twenty-five countries on five continents and created sixty-two shows of indigenous, classical, original stories, folk-tales, legends and myths. Our goal has always been to bring as much authenticity to the visual images of each production as possible to enrich and enhance the audiences’ reactions to the stories that illuminate our common humanity. Our students overseas include Glen Harper, Nevena Banic Bilan, Yaser Al Hassan, Rahma Ben Fradj, Mohamed Kouas Kouas, Fatemeh Pourhashemi, Armin Hokmi, Asiyeh Ziai, Soroosh Kariminejad, Mehrdad Abjar, Mahsid Norouzi, Asiyeh Ziai.
Our students, here in North America and around the World, are a compassionate, empathetic community of people, artists we love who share their understanding of our human condition with skill, care and wisdom.
Quite simply, without the arts, we are naked, barbaric and uncivilized – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
~ Robert Greenwood