Meet the Staff – Robert Reader
By Sarah Moon
Theater education, dance, color guard and, now, Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus
Once a manager in the hospitality field, now Hartford Stage Education Programs Manager, Robert Reader says of his life today, “I feel like I am totally submersed in the arts.” He’s not exaggerating. To wit: Robert is a national adjudicator for high school color guard and directs the color guard team at Weathersfield High School, he is Board President for the Connecticut Dance Alliance, helped found the new Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus and works full-time at Hartford Stage. And no, he does not have a twin. Robert’s work casts a wide net, bringing new opportunities for expression through the arts to many.
Though he received his degree in drama, work initially took Robert in a different direction. While at Ithaca College, Robert worked full-time during the summers and part-time during the school year in hospitality. Starting in housekeeping, he worked his way up to the front desk, a position he loved for its social nature.
After college, Robert moved to Boston where he went on to work for four different hotel chains, starting as a reservationist, moving to reservations manager and then credit manager. Family needs brought him back to his home town, Seneca Falls, NY, in 2001. The move also provided the occasion for a career shift. Robert became a certified Teacher’s Assistant for special education students at Geneva Middle School. He found that he loved education because “you know that you’re making a difference.”
Relocating to Hartford in 2006, Robert joined Hartford Stage as the Education Administrator. Robert says he was “very excited about the position because it combined [his] passion for theatre and for education.” Just six months later, his title was changed to Education Programs Manager to better reflect the scope of his work. In his position, he manages the day-to-day operations of the Education Department, while also acting as support for teaching artists and coordinating the Connections Residency Program, an in-school theatre literacy program.
When asked why arts education is important in our schools, Robert has a lot to say: “It’s really important that students have the opportunity to express themselves through the arts. I feel very strongly that those students who do marching band put in as much time or more than sports players. Not everybody is sports-minded, some are more on the creative side and band, chorale and theatre is their outlet. What are these students going to do to be engaged if these activities aren’t available?”
Earlier in 2012, Robert was awarded Hartford Stage’s Barry award for outstanding service and dedication to Hartford Stage. The award, created in 2007 to honor Barry Sellers, long-time costume draper, is selected by fellow staff members. A true connector personality, Robert says one of his favorite parts of his job is “doing community outreach for possible collaborations.”
Robert’s facilitation of the collaboration between Hartford Stage and the Connecticut Dance Alliance (CDA) is of special note. A board member of CDA since 2008 and its current President, Robert helped facilitate the initial collaboration for the summer performance of Doug Elkins and Friends’ Fraulein Maria and a master dance class led by Doug Elkins, open to the dance community. In February 2013, the two organizations will collaborate again on the Hartford Stage production of Man in a Case, starring Mikhail Baryshnikov. Robert is especially proud of CDA’s Connecticut Classic competition in which students compete for awards and scholarships to top dance schools like Vermont’s Burklyn Ballet.
Robert’s latest arts endeavor is helping to found the Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus. In Boston, he was a member of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, a role he missed when he moved away. “I felt there was a need in our community to have a chorus in Hartford.” For their debut, the chorus will perform a holiday concert on December 7at their hosting organization, the Unitarian Society of Hartford. The group currently has 23 members; Robert hopes they can double that by next year.
Theater education, dance, color guard and chorus and, now, Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus. Robert’s breadth of comfort with the arts and their power to educate and elevate has an undoubtedly positive impact on the Hartford community and beyond. When asked about the common thread between his job at Hartford Stage and his other arts activities, Robert says without hesitation, “My passion!”