There is some 1,665 miles between Corpus Christi, Texas and Lindsay, California, but that doesn’t keep Richard Robinson from continuing his work with the Lindsay Community Theatre. A Lindsay native, Robinson and his wife, Merilee, moved to Corpus Christi following their retirement. That is where their son had moved and is raising his family.
Robinson is perhaps best known as a former music teacher within the Lindsay school system, for more than 20 years. He also taught second grade and Special Ed. But, he has also been an integral part of the local theatre throughout his life.
“When I was three or four, my parents went to that theatre and watched movies,” he said. Following that time, “for years, it was shuttered up, vacant.
“And then, Peggy Sanders [who served on the city council], she said, ‘we’re going to buy that theatre and turn it into a theatre we can use.’ And, so she found it a benefactor.”
That was around 1980, Robinson said.
Following, Robinson went right to the schools’ superintendent and said, “I want to teach a summer school class in drama – we’re going to do a musical in that theatre!”
“People loved it,” he said.
And people love it now, he added, although he doesn’t feel it gets enough credit.
For years, Hal Munter, Robinson and others, produced a lot of plays at the theater – some through the high school, some through community theatre. One of the first musical productions was Oklahoma. It is being produced again this month by Jim Kleigl, who now manages the theatre.
“Music has been a problem for all of our productions, right from the start,” Kleigl said in an earlier interview. “It is really hard to find musicians. We have singers, we can find those. At first, we tried to get little orchestras together and that was challenging. And, then, technology kind of helped us out.
“I have a friend who was a teacher, Richard Robinson. He is a virtuoso pianist – the guy could do anything with a piano. My son was in a play, and he was so tone deaf, he couldn’t follow any kind of music – so Richard just said, you start singing, I’ll find your key.
“He moved – we had done plays together for 25 years. [While still living in Lindsay] he started to take all the music books, which they sent us with orchestration, and he’s got a synthesizing machine and can play any instrument on his keyboard. So, he would play every instrument and record it. When he’d play his recording it was like the whole orchestra – it was pretty cool. He did that for a few years and then, he moved away.
“So, we’re doing a play and I said, well I know Richard, you’re in Texas, but can you still do the music? And he goes, ‘well, yeah, I think I can.’
“‘If I send you all the books, can you record them and send them?’
‘Yeah, I could do that.’
“So, he’d do all the music and send it out in a file-sharing program and on my computer. I have a program that plays the music. You can change the tempo, you can change the key and suit it to the singer. It’s a lot easier than it used to be, and all we need is a technician who goes to rehearsals and knows the show – knows when to play what song. It’s pretty cool!”
Despite the fact that both of Robinson’s parents were deaf, he always had a love for music. An only child, he grew up around his grandparents as well, so he verbally spoke with them, and signed with his parents. He taught himself the piano at a young age, sneaking into the church during evening hours, to play on the instrument there, he said. Later in life, as he found his family roots and discovered that many on his mother’s side of the family were artistic and musically inclined.
“In 1966, I used to do high school musicals,” Robinson said. “Throughout my life I have tried to be involved in musicals.”
He served as musical director for countless plays in Lindsay.
Through his synthesizer, he can create music sounding just like an orchestra, he said. For each instrument, often up to 18 of them, he plays the music individually and then produces them together for the instrumental of every song within any given play.
“Some people say it is canned because it is recorded – but, I sat down and played every note, for every book, every song,” he said. “It’s not canned! I decide how fast it should go, and when to slow down.”
And then throughout rehearsals, and in real time, he can chat with Kliegl and the artists to tweak the music.
“You could buy or rent [the music] for $2,000 or 3,000” Robinson said. “But, I can do it just as well and I won’t charge you anything because I love the theater,” he had told Kliegl.
“I collaborate with him on his shows,” Robinson said. “We just work really well together – I know what he wants.”
Despite the miles between him and the City of Lindsay, Robinson remains just as dedicated to his theatre work. Not too long ago, he broke his right wrist prior to production of one musical, and had to play all the work with his left hand, and yes, he is naturally right-handed.
And despite the miles, Robinson makes comments as if he still lives in Lindsay.
“One of the best things we have in our town, is community theatre,” he said.