Kirk Vaughn-Robinson lives a life filled with art and music

Kirk Vaughn-Robinson lives a  life filled with art and music

After 22 years on Broadway, more than 100 million people have seen The Phantom of the Opera, which has been produced in 14 different languages. It’s not only the longest running show on Broadway, but it’s also the longest running Broadway tour.

In late January, Phantom rolled into Orlando’s Bob Carr Performing Arts Center for a three-week run during which it celebrates its 7,000th performance.

Along with hundreds of costumes, elaborate sets and a musical score loved by the masses, Phantom brings with it dozens of talented actors including Kirk Vaughn-Robinson, whose creative endeavors reach beyond the theater and into the realm of another ancient art form—sculpting.

When he’s not performing the role of Gollywog/Fireman in the show with which he has spent almost 12 years touring, he works in a mobile studio he sets up in hotel rooms and creates sculptures that run the gamut from mythical to homoerotic.

Shortly after arriving in Orlando, the out actor and artist sat down with Watermark to talk about being a part of one of Broadway’s most beloved shows, how he made the transition from opera to Broadway and where he finds the inspiration for his awe-inspiring sculptures.

PhantomSculpture1_819166032.jpgWatermark: Which came first, your desire to sing and perform or your love for creating art?
Kirk Vaughn-Robinson:  I don’t know that as a child I really knew what I was going to do, but I felt more drawn to being a performer.

We had this wonderful hearth in our house that was actually a two-way fireplace with one side in the family room and the other side in the living room. My sister and I used to put on shows on this hearth and we would do little tap numbers and my parents would get the biggest kick sitting on the other side and watching our feet and whatever we were doing to be creative.

Were your parents supportive of you choosing a career in the arts?
That’s where a lot of my inspiration came from. My parents have always been very supportive both in my pursuit of music and also in art. My mother never let me take art lessons because she said, “I want that to be the thing that you do for you and not something that you do for a grade or for a paycheck—but just so that you keep the joy.”

What was the transition from opera to musical theater like for you?

I think it was one of those meant to be situations. I have a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Converse College in South Carolina and I got a scholarship from the Music Guild of Boca Raton to go study at the American Institute of Musical Studies in Austria for a summer. Then I had an opportunity to audition for the summer opera course in Cincinnati, and from there I auditioned for what they call their Opera Outreach, which takes opera to kids in schools for 34 weeks a year.

I had a friend who I hit it off with and when he had an extra ticket to see a Broadway show that was coming through Cincinnati I would go. Funny enough the first Broadway show I ever really saw was Phantom of the Opera as it was touring through Cincinnati.

What was your initial reaction to the show?
I thought it was really great. As someone who comes from an opera background you think you have seen all the emotion of opera, but at the end of Phantom I had a couple of tears rolling down my face. It brought out all these emotions. It is a really powerful show that I think speaks to so many dynamics in human relationships that we all can identify with.

PhantomSculpture2_826856482.jpgAnd now here you are having spent 12 years with the show. What is it exactly that you think keeps bringing in audiences?
It is a well crafted show and a well told story through the eye of Hal Prince, the director. What you see in our show is the exact same thing that you see in the Broadway show, except our show picks up and moves. Same costumes, same music, same set pieces. It’s those elements and music that you leave the theater humming and singing. I think that Phantom has such name recognition that people prick their ears up when they hear it.

You have only been sculpting for less than two years, yet you are already being shown in art galleries across the country. What attracted you to this art form and how did you get your start?
Where I’m from in Indiana, Muncie, there’s a huge lawn sculpture of an Indian chief in full headdress, bare-chested and in a loin cloth. They call him “Chief Muncie” and everyone in town has an affinity for it. Oftentimes we would drive by and I was so captivated by that sculpture and it always stuck in the back of my mind I think. Sculpting always seemed like a magic process.

Being out on the road for going on 12 years, I was feeling just a little bit stuck, just wondering what the next thing or creative outlet might be. My job seems very creative and sometimes when you’ve traveled so much it doesn’t feel as creative. So I was just feeling a little bit stuck. I went to bed one night thinking, “What is next?” The next morning I woke up at 5:30 a.m. having had a dream about this sculpture Pan that was life size and outside of my house in Colorado up in the mountains and in the woods. It was such a profound dream that I woke up and I sketched it and I said, “I’m going to sculpt this someday.”

How do you know when it is speaking to the art and not just a crazy dream?

I think that sometimes you don’t know, but I think that dreams and daydreams are worth recording. In my case, I get a visual and I sit and sketch it. I have my sketchbook in the car so that I’m not far from being able to put down an idea. So it really requires a bit of a discipline, when something comes to me, to sketch it out even if it’s just a rough sketch, just so that I have the idea.

What’s the hardest part of the whole process?

It’s all very meditative for me. I will come home from the show at 11 p.m. and be up until six in the morning sculpting sometimes, and it feels like a half hour has gone by. It’s also just a time of losing myself and problem solving. Creating the piece isn’t really difficult because my mind figures it out. There is a saying that, “The eyes teach the hands.” I think that there is an ease that I feel about the whole process. It’s difficult to have to pick up and move every month and have to move my on-the-road studio. It consists of a collapsible table that looks like a very big briefcase but has legs that extend out and a folding chair and some lights. There is a difficulty in picking that up, breaking it down, moving it and setting it up in the next city.

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