Danny Robinson Clark, Actor, on his Early Life, Acting, August Wilson, and his Wife, June ’13 – January ’14
Danny Robinson Clark came north to Minneapolis at 19, went to work in the post office, and began to act. He got his big break at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, in August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, and toured with that play and others for several years. Now taking only occasional work, he reflects on how he learned to be an actor: how particular experiences in his childhood and early life made his career possible — and perhaps necessary. This interview, the first in a series, explores his early life and his first meeting with August Wilson. He recalls the diverse kinds of people and mannerisms that fascinated him: speech, language, behavior, race, prejudice, music…
Peter Shea, Danny Robinson Clark, and Ann Waltner discussed this interview. The discussion ranged freely, from substance to process–-the ways Shea’s interviewing elicited Robinson’s stories, as well as the stories themselves.
Here he takes up where he left off, at his struggle with recurrent pain during acting. He talks to Peter Shea about dynamics of race and prejudice among his fellow actors, his fascination with Constantin Stanislavski’s “An Actor Prepares” and John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”. He discusses commonalities of playwrights Steinbeck, August Wilson, and Shakespeare, including their treatment of racial stereotypes in the characters of their plays. He talks about racial tension and color classification schemes he witnessed in his youth. He discusses the arc of his career, his impressions of August Wilson, and their meetings during the long run of The Piano Lesson.
Continuing, he draws connections between Shakespeare, Stanislavski, the Bible, and childhood experiences. He considers how these insights helped him to prepare as an actor and to teach a young girl to prepare. He talks about dynamics of race and casting, and his preparation for two challenging roles: the characters of Chief Sitting Bull and a newly freed slave kneeling before Abraham Lincoln. He returns to Stanislavski’s ideals of preparation, describes the inner commitments necessary for proper acting, and recalls how actors and acquaintances did or didn’t embody those commitments.
Danny Robinson Clark talks to Peter Shea about his wife, Mattie. He recalls memories of her: their childhood experiences in Mississippi, her personality and determination, her family and upbringing, her love of reading, and her labor in cotton fields. He remembers her exposure to the “southern argot” and recalls her gifted storytelling, beginning with children at Harrison school after their move to Minneapolis. He describes her attitude toward the move in light of the severity of childhood experiences which forced her to fend for herself. He recalls her outward disposition and categorical concern for the welfare of others. This interview is Clark’s fourth with Shea.
Peter Shea has also interviewed storyteller Jerry Blue, a colleague of Mattie Clark’s.