New member Rob Hille tells us about his 7-month stint in the Caribbean as a Victorian era magic show emcee, his love for “punk-rock/seat-of-your-pants” theater and how he broke fellow member Mariana Fernandez with his pronunciation of “yava.”
InViolet: How do you identify in the theater world?
Rob: I’m an actor that’s learned how to do a bunch of other stuff in order to keep acting.
InViolet: You are one of our newest members. Psyched to have you onboard! What’s your InViolet journey been like so far?
Rob: Thanks, it’s great to be here! It was kinda like Cub Scouts: I got taken camping and then got asked to raise money. I mean, I’ve been catching InViolet’s mainstage shows for years, and have always been impressed with the group, so I was really jazzed when Angela invited me to be a part of this awesome group of I’ve been participating as an actor at InViolet’s Second Monday Socials regularly and the stuff that’s been cooking at the company meetings has got me excited about the next year. But I’m a young’un at InViolet, I’m still taking my first steps as a company member here, who knows what’s gonna happen?!
InViolet: Have a favorite InViolet memory you can share yet?
Rob: I know this is cheating, but I have two: The first is at Second Monday Social, I was reading an excerpt from a play-I think it was by Jen Bowen?-with the lovely Mariana Fernandez and I made her laugh when I pronounced java “yava.” I think there’s a photo taken from the exact moment she broke and it’s one of my favorites of all time. Right afterwards the entire room fell apart. That was a great room to be in that night.
The other was, while camping, I tagged along with co-AD Michael Henry Harris to pick up Troy and he was talking about future goals of the company and in passing mentioned that they had something wild like a dozen full-length plays written by company members that they were trying to decide on what to produce next but a company with a budget this size could only realistically produce one or two full-lengths in a year. I’m paraphrasing, but he said something to the effect of, “so we need to find other ways to give these plays life,” I was, and am, blown away by how generous that sentiment is. There’s this weird mysticism around success in the performing arts and people can be very protective and cagey about things they think will bring them more success and to hear an Artistic Director of this company say that the work deserves to be seen for its own sake, regardless of how or if the company benefits from it, was really inspiring to me.
InViolet: A few years ago you worked on a SHIP for a good chunk of time. Fill us in on that experience, please. We want to know about island excursions, towel monkeys, everything! (PS- Did you ever get seasick?)
Rob: Yep, I was an emcee for a Victorian-era magic show on a cruise ship in the Caribbean for seven months. That’s a fun sentence to write. It was a good gig: I’ve been lucky to be a part of very good groups in the past: my classmates in grad school out in Denver, the core group that was working with Amios the first couple years when we were getting off the ground. There were six or seven of us in the show that were all about the same age and I was and am deeply grateful to have had them around. There was an Austrian couple who did the mentalist act in the show that were both really great at finding the really cool places to explore everywhere we went. One day we spent exploring the neighborhoods in St. Thomas that took us all the way out to these cliffs on the ocean that felt like we were standing on the end of the world as the tide came in. That was incredible.
There were lots of times where the contrast between the way people lived was really jarring: The Gorillaz-one of my favorite bands of all time-has this album called Plastic Beach and for the album cover they built this huge sculpture of an island which looks like this really idyllic paradise, but as you get closer to it, you realize the entire thing’s made out of garbage and has been painted over, that’s what Nassau reminded me of. There were the private beaches next to public land that were tiny ship graveyards and an abandoned condo development that folks had started squatting in a quarter mile up the street from celebrity summer homes.
Even the paths of my castmates were really different: the Austrian mentalist couple took third place in America’s Got Talent last season, while another magician in our cast left straight from his contract to his mandatory military service for the South Korean Navy.
And there were all kinds of crazy things that happened with the passengers: we had a man overboard that turned out to be a failed suicide attempt (he landed on the lifeboats that hang off the ship), they had to med-evac a couple of people with health problems (one was a dead body!), one time this girl got stuck in the waterslide, the porn production company Brazzers hosted an “event” on the ship for a week, I met a crazy parrot lady and a real-life treasure diver in St. Thomas and one time a kid got detained for trying to smuggle a lizard onto the ship. It was three feet long.
And, no, I was never seasick: Rob Hille ain’t no punk bitch
InViolet: You are a founding member and former co-artistic director of Amios Theatre, who many know as that cool company that does Shotz! each month. What has that whole adventure been like?
Rob: Oh, man, it was great. Amios was started by my classmates Christian Haines and Melissa Ortiz (who married each other and are super gross), along with my roommate from Denver Michael Fulvio (who was Co-AD with me for a bit), and also in the room were Jillian LaVinka, Kathleen Wallace Lauren Berst, and Justin Yorio, who’s the current AD. All were alumni of our grad program, the National Theater Conservatory. Christian had adopted the Shotz format (assign three writing prompts and a cast to six writers, give them two weeks to write, give the casts two weeks to rehearse and throw it up as a one-night event) from a company he’d worked with in New York and so we came back out here after our showcase we’d been doing this in Denver for nearly a year and a half as this close-knit ensemble that was really comfortable directing and working with one another. So we do our showcase and it goes well for some of us and not so well for others and Christian decides to not wait around and wait for someone else to give him a job when he knows how to make his own work. One of Fulvio’s classmates was bartending at a place in the Flatiron with an upstairs event space which we got access to. Several of the NTC alumni were also playwrights (including Steve Cole Hughes, John Behlmann, and Dan Loeser) and they were super game to write for us.
The whole thing had this kind of punk rock, seat of the pants energy to it where we were using the absolute minimum to tell our stories, which were tailor made to the actor’s strengths by the playwrights and the first couple of years when the show went up-we did it on Mondays in Denver because we’d started inviting the actors that were in town doing shows to work with us and Monday was the only night they had off-there was this awesome energy in the air because nobody really knew what the hell was going to happen. Partly because the rehearsal period was so short-you can always double down on a talented actor’s sense of self-preservation to make fantastic and hilarious choices when they’re in a packed house of their friends-and partly because each of the six plays were rehearsed separately so tech and the performances were the only time we got to see one another’s work and the first few venues we performed in, there was always this sort-of-off-stage area where the whole rest of the cast was watching one another’s work and just drinking it up. That was a fantastic vibe to get not just from the crowd, but from your peers.
We were good at it and had no reason to stop, so we kept going and kept getting bigger. And I think when I left in early 2015 we’d produced something like 450 original works and collaborated with more than 500 artists. They’re still going. I’m not sure what they’re at now.
We all started doing Shotz in New York because we didn’t have other projects to work on. There have been five different Artistic Directors for Amios since we started going in 2009, so there may be some disagreement on what I say next, but I think the company was only ever intended as a placeholder for its artists-a gym to keep the acting (and writing and directing) muscles tuned-while we waited for the next project. Well, when you’re helping to run the show, the next project is always the next show, so for me at least I found myself not working as hard to find other stuff to do and Shotz and Amios became my only artistic outlet, which wasn’t healthy for me so I had to step away to find other ways to be an actor.
InViolet: What was the last piece of theater you saw that knocked you out?
Rob: “Beauty Queen of Leenane” at BAM. McDonagh remains one of my top five playwrights of all time. My Dad got me a membership there for Christmas, which was a pretty kickass gift. The Harvey’s a beautiful theater (I saw my favorite production of “The Tempest” there a couple years back), I’d love to do something on that stage one day…
InViolet: Seems like you’ve been catching lot of live music lately. That’s a very cool New Yorker thing to do. What have you been seeing?
Rob: I saw two awesome shows at Pete’s Candy Store last week. That was a super cool venue to discover. I’d say you should probably see The Lobbyists and Phil Pickens whenever you get a chance. Also Lake Street Dive, Ben L’Oncle, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, Pickwick, Tobacco, Gorillaz, Rostam, Maps & Atlases, and Jenni Lark.
InViolet: Word on the street is that you’re heading to Myanmar soon? What??? Give us the scoop!
Rob: It’s true! My lady found a pretty sweet deal on air travel and it’s a place she’s always wanted to go, so I said fuck it, first trip to Asia, first time in a hot air balloon….I’m pretty stoked.
InViolet: What’s up next for you?
Rob: I go straight into rehearsals for this play by Sara Farrington called “CasablancaBox,” which is about the making of the film. I’m playing Peter Lorre. I’ve been involved with a couple of workshops of the piece since this time last year and the final version of the show Sara and her husband Reid, who’s directing, is gonna be something really awesome that I’m really excited to be a part of. We open April 5!