Robert Stineman lives and breathes this city, from South Philadelphia where he resides, to the macaroni and cheese served at Steven Starr’s restaurant, Jones.
“It’s dirty and beautiful,” Stineman describes of South Philly. “Filled with artists and jerks, double-parked cars, and loud people who love their little piece of this town in their own way. It’s pretty great.”
Stineman, who grew up in the New Castle area of Delaware, has a keen sense of what this city needs, a detailed awareness of its theatrical future, and a valued say in how it all might happen. And, as one of the hardest working individuals I know, it should be no surprise that Stineman worked his way up from the cartoon-loving, school choir-singing chap of DE to become Managing Director at an emerging, Philadelphia theatre company, Simpatico Theatre Project.
He’s an actor, writer, director, businessman, and all-around good-guy who isn’t afraid to face a daunting reality and plunge through the brick wall anyway, leaving a “Bob-shaped” hole in his stead. His determined unwillingness to feign good storytelling and his passionate hope to cultivate a new class of Philly artists will aid in making Simpatico a household name, whilst launching us into a new era of performance.
His artistic beliefs are simple and, yet, all-together rare: “Give me a good story with actors really going through stuff, really listening, really responding, really playing with one another, and then I forget everything but that narrative. Then I go for a ride. Then I really get the visceral experience that theatre can be.”
However, it wasn’t always theatre for Stineman. He admits that he didn’t begin acting until high school, claiming that music was his original performing influence.
“The first artistic outlet I had was music. I sang in choirs […] and then gravitated to playing the saxophone […] before, eventually, moving on to singing and playing the guitar.”
After some time, Stineman found his spotlight.
“It was ironic,” he says. “Playing music always made me nervous, but living and playing on a stage, as an actor, was always very freeing. Here I am now. Still doing it.”
Since his late-adolescent introduction, Stineman continued working in community and professional theatres during the six years he spent out of school, before attending the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
“That taught me a lot,” Stineman says. “Not only about the craft, but working with all different kinds of people with different backgrounds and different training. I learned a great deal about comedy, timing, improv, feeling a crowd, and what I enjoyed most about theatre in general. Musicals were sort of my foundation,” he continues. “But, after a time, I found straight plays to be what I really enjoyed.”
Stineman graduated UArts with a BFA in Acting, a four year program he accredits for not only finding “an immensely strong foundation of friends and contemporaries, but also a way to hone my craft that really did change my work and my life.”
After several years of working in Philly's professional theatre scene, Stineman found himself placed as Managing Director of the Simpatico Theatre Project, an extant company that has been producing work within Philadelphia for the last eight years.
“What really sets STP apart,” Stineman explains, “is what we stand for: illuminating issues within the community at large to help educate and hopefully make positive change. Every production we put up is in partnership with another non-profit whose goals and mission statement line up with the piece that we are doing.”
For example, Simpatico’s next endeavor, a co-production with The Renegade Company, is a remounting of THE AMISH PROJECT by Jessica Dickey, opening January 17 (8pm). Due to its subject matter about the 2006 school shooting of an Amish school in Lancaster, PA, the production will be in partnership with The Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia.
“Given the current landscape and recent tragic events in Connecticut, it’s timely and really going to get people talking about gun regulation and the problems our nation and our city are facing right now. It couldn't be more relevant.”
As far as what the future holds for Simpatico, Stineman has an eager and open mind.
“Philadelphia is one of those towns where new stuff is happening in theatre all the time,” Stineman says. He believes that “Philadelphia is a city with a massive amount of untapped talent, most of it young talent, that I feel really isn’t being utilized. I want Simpatico to become a company that welcomes new artists into the fold, giving performers the chance to do what they love, for playwrights to have an outlet for their words, and designers to get the opportunity to show what they can do with a production.”
In addition, Stineman hopes to expand the company, giving Simpatico “its own space to not only perform, but also rehearse, run the administrative end, host outreach programs, and have events for our non-profit partners and the rest of the community.”
Which, he admits, is no small task and may take years of planning, but a challenge that (I believe) he will leave a “Bob-shaped” hole in.
THE AMISH PROJECT opens January 17 and runs until February 3. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm and held at Walnut Street Theatre's Studio 5. (825 Walnut Street, Floor 5)