Feature Photo by Tedd Henn
Danielle Robinette is a seasoned Baltimore actress who wears many hats. From starring in several groundbreaking rock operas to founding one of Baltimore’s most Broadway-like theater companies—Stillpointe Theater Initiative—it would be an understatement to call her anything but this city’s most badass theater-bitch. Her strong track record hasn’t gone to her head; in fact Danielle admits she always strives to better herself. With such ability to be raw and authentic, Danielle isn’t just a role model for women in the theater scene, but for women in general. Luckily, I got to get the inside scoop on what made Danielle who she is today.
What’s your favorite type of role to play? Why?
I love playing roles that challenge me. Whether that means physically, mentally, or emotionally, I love a good challenge. It’s easy to fall into a rut in this field—to find one or two things you do really well and only go after roles like that. I’m guilty of it too sometimes. By no choice of mine, I’ve found myself falling into the category of “men’s roles played as women”. Luckily, I have found these roles to be the most challenging and rewarding. To get the opportunity to turn a role on its ear and portray it in a light that has never been seen before is a rush unlike any I could imagine.
What was your childhood like in relation to acting? Did you act?
I was always a very dramatic child, at least from what I’ve heard from my family over the years. There’s a WONDERFUL story that my family LOVES to tell about me baking a fake “invisible” cake and then carrying it into the living room and pretending to “drop” it so I could have a meltdown about how much time I spent on it. Or the Easter when I cast my entire family as characters in the Wizard of Oz and forced them to recreate the movie in my grandmother’s back yard.
Were you always so confident when it came to acting? If not, when did that happen?
As far as PERSONAL confidence? Oh shit, no. Ha! I believe that some of the best actors get that way because they would rather play anyone other than themselves. I am no exception. Being the way I am, looking the way I look, I’ve always had insecurities about my appearance and my abilities. But there came a time, probably sometime during college, or maybe earlier, when I realized I was never going to fit into any kind of mold. I knew I wasn’t going to be like everyone else and, after a while, I realized that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. When I was younger, I could play parts that some of my peers couldn’t because I was bigger and could look older. But size wasn’t everything. I always knew there was room for improvement; that feeling has always been there. A lot of my training taught me to always strive to better yourself—and if you weren’t doing that, you were dead in the water. I’m like a shark. I have to keep swimming to stay alive.
“I always knew I was not meant to have a “typical” nine-to-five job. I knew my life was always meant to be way more exciting than that. I’ve never wanted to be anything other than an actor.”
What’s the best piece of advice, acting or not, that you’ve ever received?
On acting, it was from a professor at Towson, where I got my acting degree, who said, “If the work isn’t there, you have to create it yourself.” That was a big part of what drove us to create Stillpointe. As far as life advice, my grandfather always said, “You never know if you can do something until you try.” That is coming from a man who took up an art career in his 60s. I had to take his word on that.
How has your role as an actress grown over the past five or so years?
My role as an actress has grown for the better. I’ve started to carve out a niche for myself, which goes back to that great advice I got in college. I’m also more selfish, but in a good way. I know what I want and am able to go and GET it now. I’ve also grown out of the stereotype of “just being an actor.” I produce, I write, I design, and I have a stronger presence in the art community, and that has helped further my dream of strengthening the arts scene in Baltimore.
What do you love about the DIY-theater scene in Baltimore?
There’s an understanding, and a love, that comes from this community. No one is at odds or competing with each other because we know that our work is so multi-faceted. There’s a shared love for the arts that overrides trying to be the “cool kid in the cafeteria.” We know that something good for one of us is overall good for our community and that makes it such an amazing time to be making art in this city. It’s like opening a Mexican restaurant and then having your best friend open an Italian restaurant across the street. People are always going to be hungry. It just depends on what they want to eat. And they can’t eat the same thing every day. So we all win.
How did you get involved with the BROS?
Ryan Haase, my best friend and co-founder of Stillpointe Theater Initiative, was seeing someone who knew one of the original guys who wrote Gründlehämmer. He told me about the show and my interest was peaked. It wasn’t until a few months later, when I was browsing Craigslist and saw the audition notice, that I really took it seriously. I went into the auditions wearing huge heels and I guess they liked what they saw. They changed the gender of the role I ended up playing (Halvor) and casted me. I was unsure at first; it was my first audition after getting my theatre degree. It was so refreshing (and a little scary) to be around people who didn’t know theatre the way I did but were so committed to putting out a good product. They also thought I could wail and I’ve never been one to down a compliment!
What actress/actor has been your biggest inspiration?
I love the bawdy grand dames of Ol’ Broadway (Liza [Minnelli], Judy [Garland], Bette Midler, Patti Lupone, and the list goes on), but my biggest influence are the people I encountered while doing community theatre in my hometown on the Eastern Shore. These were women who were in their mid 40s-50s and held down successful careers as accountants and sales managers, who left their jobs every night to work FOR FREE on shows with people they loved and cared about. They showed me that love for the art was all you needed to be fulfilled. You didn’t need bright lights and a ton of press. They were so happy to have those brief moments where they could step onto a stage and do what they loved. They didn’t need crazy budgets or tons of press to validate themselves. They were some of the hardest working women I’ve ever known and if I ever encounter them again, I owe them a drink (or 10).
What’s your favorite thing about being a co-founder of the Stillpointe Theater Initiative?
There’s no one to answer to except for ourselves. There is no one telling us that we can or can’t do anything. If we thrive, it is because of what WE did. If we fall, we have no one to blame but ourselves. There is a scary type of freedom that comes from that. Also, being able to create work you feel so passionately about with people you love, admire, and trust is something that I think very few people can do.
What’s your favorite part of being in theater? Do you prefer acting to other roles such as directing, producing, etc?
I love acting. It will always be the number one thing I do – and do well. As much as I’d love to say that every part of it brings me equal joy, I’d be lying to you. There is nothing that compares to being alone on a stage and having full command over a room. If you could bottle that feeling and sell it in pill form, it would be a far more dangerous than heroin. That’s how addictive it is.
What show has been your favorite to be a part of?
Shows that I’ve had a hand in bringing to life from the ground up would probably be my favorite. With both companies I am involved with, both Stillpointe and BROS, I have had the opportunity to bring works to life that no one has ever seen. Creating Shovel in the Dirt, Stillpointe’s first original musical, gave me some of the happiest, scariest, and proudest moments of my life. You put all of yourself into it. There’s no bullshit. It’s pure creative energy. When everyone is cheering at curtain call you know that your words, dedication, and your performance brought them there. It was unreal. We took people on a fucking RIDE. Also, Gründlehämmer will always be my baby. Team Halvor forever!
If you could give a piece of advice to someone who is having a hard time finding his or her niche in the acting scene, what would it be?
You do you, boo. If you’re confident and present it will happen. If you’re trying to weasel your way into social circles or inject yourself into places that don’t seem to fit, then it’s going to come across like you’re trying too hard. Square pegs will never fit into round holes. If you go where the love is, there will always be a home for you. But, to contradict myself, if you want something, then fight tooth and fucking nail for it and don’t let anyone (including me) tell you it can’t be done. You have to be your worst critic and biggest fan all at the same time.
What is your favorite thing about Baltimore, in general?
The people. The pride these people take in their city, regardless of how fucked up it might be at times. Baltimore is like your shithead little brother. You can say whatever you want about it because you love it. But if someone else says something bad about it? You’re like, “THATS MY FUCKING BROTHER!” Everyone is coming from the same place. Everyone has everything to gain and nothing to lose – and that’s a beautiful and truly fucked up place to be coming from.
Lastly, if you could be in a play/musical with any actress/actor (dead or alive) who would it be, and why?
I only get one? Damn! If could share a stage with anyone, it would be Liza Minnelli. She’s seen it all and done it all. She’s a true showstopper. I love Patti Lupone, but honestly the bitch would just try to upstage me. Liza knows her shit and she doesn’t even have to try. Her voice is nowhere near what it was but, even so, the raw power and experience behind her eyes makes her stronger than anyone I can think of. I’d also love to share a scene with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-era Jack Nicholson. Only because he was a F-O-X on top of having some of the most unbridled energy I’ve ever witnessed from an actor. Realistically, I’d love to act with fellow Baltimore actor Bruce Nelson. We won the Best Actor/Actress award in City Paper’s “Best of…” issue 2 years ago and I think we would have a hell of a time on stage together. He is a true chameleon and I’d love to learn from him.