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Montford Park Players

MPP Founder, Hazel Robinson, Dies

Montford Park Players logoHazel Robinson, founder and board member of the Montford Park Players (MPP) in Asheville, North Carolina, passed away Oct. 20. She was 90.

A legend in Asheville theater circles, for many of her 90 years she trod the boards, finding a love for classical theater and Shakespeare, in particular. "Her dramaturgical mission was always one that veered toward 'community,' and many of the people you see today, on the amphitheater stage that bears her name, and behind the scenes there, are people who might not have otherwise been involved in theater were it not for her infectious zeal," wrote John Russell, MPP managing director and CEO, in a message to theater patrons.

She was a writer, a teacher, an actress, a techie, and a friend to all who came within her reach, Russell wrote. "But her credentials are superfluous to the impact she had on many who needed a place to belong, and 43 years ago she took it upon herself to create that place: Montford Park Players."

Robinson and her late husband, John, created the outdoor Shakespearean theater company in 1973, and, by 1983, the performers moved out of the namesake park and into an amphitheater down the road, since renamed in Robinson's honor. John passed away last July at age 91.

At a time when theater was a blip on the Asheville scene, she started a company that would perform free Shakespeare in the Park with nothing but "three boards and a passion," minus the three boards, wrote Russell. "It probably shouldn't have lasted. And yet, here we are over four decades later. Still free. Still Shakespeare. Still welcoming to all who show up at the amphitheater and want to be a part of something. Hazel gave us this. And we are this. And we are proud to be this. And we will miss our guide, our teacher, our mentor, our board member until the day she died."

As reported in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Mrs. Robinson was born in Mississippi in 1926 and spent her childhood moving with her family around western North Carolina. She attended the then-named East Carolina's Teachers College in Greenville, North Carolina, and then transferred to UNC Chapel Hill, where she was active in the school's legendary Playmakers company. She worked at the Asheville Community Theater, later becoming its technical director, from 1963 or 1964 until 1972, leaving a year later to found the Montford Park Players. Though she had remained the chairwoman emerita of the organization, Robinson directed her final production of A Christmas Carol in 2012.

A memorial service in celebration of her life will be held in May 2017.

October 29, 2016

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