BWW Interviews: Robert Encila - Theatrical Alchemist

Robert Encila

JS: Robert Encila's company, Studio Connections, has become a respected force in the theatre landscape in southern Arizona. I asked him how theatre came to be his career.

RE: As a kid growing up in the Philippines, I was always performing around the house, singing for my supper, literally. I also loved dancing, playing the piano and the guitar. In school I participated in our version of Poetry Out Loud and won a couple of those. The theatre bug didn't really hit me until my sophomore year in high school when I saw my very first live musical, which was a community production of Pippin. It was incredible and had a profound impact on me. Not long after that I auditioned and got cast in a production of Godspell. I never looked back. I knew I was in it for life. You could say Stephen Scwhartz was my very first muse. I got my degree in music and theatre at the University of Arizona in the 80's, then went on to teach theatre for the next two decades, managing to perform locally and around the country whenever I can.

How often do you get to go home?

I don't go home to the Phillipines as often as I'd like, maybe once every five years. But that's changing because of some recent re-connections. I do get homesick a lot. I miss the tropics, the food, the people and their hospitality. There's nothing like it. I also love speaking my native tongue, which I really get to practice when I go home. Visayan and Tagalog, both Filipino dialects. We were under Spanish rule for [well over] 300 years, so lots of Spanish influence in our language and culture. It's very exciting to go back and share my work with my native country.

When and why did you join the Union (Actors' Equity Association)? How do those restrictions inform your work in Tucson?

I got my Equity card in 2007 performing in a production of The Pajama Game with Arizona Theatre Company. Equity is a source of pride, but I don't find it particularly useful in Tucson - and especially when my main focus the past ten years was running my own non-profit theatre company.

Are you proud because it is associated with professional theatre? Do you ever hire Equity actors? How would it affect your work differently, if you did so? Beyond the money factor, I mean.

Robert Encila in an ATC production.
Robert Encila in Conjunto by Oliver Mayer,
produced by Borderlands Theater
at the Leo Rich in Tucson.

Equity gives me a sense of pride because I'm aware of the quality of performers and performances associated with an Equity production. It's also a good feeling to have a union that protects you and looks out for you and the environment you're working in. Having said that, I'll admit not all Equity performers are gifted with overwhelming talent, and there are non-union performers who are as good as they come but don't have the membership, either by choice or due to a lack of opportunity. I've worked with local actors who are good enough to work anywhere.

I have hired Equity actors, but very rarely. I don't have that kind of a budget in Tucson. Plus, my work has been mostly about training young adults. It's a big part of my mission as an educator. Periodically, an Equity actor will help elevate the standard and expectations of a production, especially when the rest of the cast doesn't have as much experience.

When I work with Borderlands Theater on a new play, or with Arizona Theatre Company for a staged reading, I'm hired through Equity. Sure the pay is better, but it's really about the union and the integrity of my relationship with them.

How does being an Equity actor and knowing about safe and sanitary working conditions impact your working environment at Studio Connections?

Equity gives me the working standards to live up to. But Equity or not, I believe in creating a safe and sanitary working environment. The genesis of Studio Connections 12 years ago was a fine arts summer camp for youth, so you better believe I know about safe and sanitary. More important, I believe in creating an emotionally safe environment for people. I've seen all kinds of leadership in my lifetime, and what works for me is treating people the way I want to be treated. You can create excellence without all that crazy power trip.

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Jeanmarie Simpson Jeanmarie Simpson has performed dozens of roles in regional theatre and stock in the US and Canada and began writing and directing while still in her teens. She is Founding Artistic Director of the Nevada Shakespeare Company, from which she retired in 2008. She wrote and performed 263 times the play "A Single Woman," about the life of first US Congresswoman and lifelong pacifist, Jeannette Rankin. She also starred in the film version that featured Judd Nelson, the voices of Martin Sheen and Patricia Arquette and the music of Joni Mitchell. In 2007, she appeared at the historic Beverly Hills Theatre 40 in the American premiere of the solo tour-de-force "Shakespeare's Will," produced by Leonard Nimoy. In 2009, at Tucson's Rhythm Industry Performance Factory, Simpson opened in the solo performance, "Coming In Hot," in which she played 17 women who served in the US military. Simpson is co-adaptor of "Coming in Hot," which is based on the book, "Powder: writing by women in the ranks from Viet Nam to Iraq." That show toured for 45 performances to high schools, universities and other venues in Arizona, Nevada, California, Washington and Pennsylvania. For several years, Jeanmarie wrote art and theatre reviews and features for She now lives in Tucson Arizona where she studies Film and Television at the University of Arizona. She is artistic director of Universal Access Productions, a film and theatre company based in Tucson.

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