He was a director first then he became a playwright, in part to give himself work as a director. Now he is enjoys both equally, but for very different reasons.
“Writing is ultimately a very solitary experience,” he said during a visit to Linfield in February. “I tend to do it late at night and by myself. The less communication (with the outside world) the better.” But, after two months of solitary work and a rough draft of a new play in hand, he needs “to go into a room with people and talk.”
That’s where directing comes in. “Ultimately, directing is social, it’s collaborative and it’s being in a room with people. By the time I’m done directing a big show (he directed a version of “High School Musical’ last year) I’m going to write a play. They balance each other nicely and I don’t see ever given either of them up.”
Urbinati spent several days at Linfield, speaking to classes, presenting a staged reading of a new play and provided a critique of Linfield’s production of his play “West Moon Street,” an adaption of an Oscar Wilde short story. The play was under the direction of Elizabeth Rothan ‘ 85 and Urbinati worked with both her and the Linfield students who were in rehearsal for the March production.
“To have the playwright’s perspective on set is rare,” said Rothan. “To have his critique and have him guide us during the process is really something special.”
Urbinati is no stranger to college campuses. In addition to directing professional, he also directs at colleges and universities and enjoys the challenges of working with two very different groups of performers.
Professional actors provide a high calibre of talent from which to draw, but they also tend to stay with roles they feel that are safe. College students don’t have the experience of professional actors, are less inhibited because they haven’t really found themselves as actors, and are more open to possibilities.
“To see a college take a crack at ‘West Moon’ is satifying to me,” he said. “It is a period play, so it gives them the opportunity to deal with language, the vocal demands of 19th century English aristocrats, and to wear these unbelievable costumes. It’s a stretch for them, but an achievable stretch.”
One of the exciting aspects of writing plays is the research, Urbinati said. All of his 11 plays have been adapted from other sources. The research required is invigorating, exciting and interesting and it also helps avoid “the blank page,” something that a lot of writers grapple with.
“I don’t know that I will ever be able to write a play that’s not based on something,” he said. “Research can be fun and creative. My research has creative ends. It leads to something that is mine at the end. And it’s a way of combining my interests with something I’m good it. Sometimes I have an idea for a play and I do the research. And sometimes I’m just reading something and I’ll know there’s a play there.”
Rob Urbinati received an M.A. from the University of Nebraska and a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon. In 1995, he received a fellowship from The Drama League. He has directed over 40 plays at theaters across the country. His writing credits include “Hazelwood Jr. High,” “Karaoke Night at the Suicide Shack” and the musical “Shangri La,” which is based on the ‘60s girl group. His play, “West Moon Street,” has been produced by theaters both in the U.S. and England. Urbinati is currently the director of new play development at Queen’s Theatre in the Park, where he curates the Immigrant’s Voices Project.