TICK, TICK… BOOM!'s Isaac Robinson-Smith On His BOOMing Career
November 15, 2021
Up Next Productions’ showing of Jonathan Larson‘s TICK, TICK… BOOM! will open November 21st at The Atlas Space at Thymele Arts. Clint Foley directs the cast of Isaac Robinson-Smith, Mandie Hittleman and Christopher Fishburne. Isaac opened up to me about his history with Up Next Productions and his thriving career.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Isaac! So, what cosmic forces brought you into the Up Next’s TICK, TICK… BOOM! universe?
Now that you have stated as a universe, I am imagining a show where all Jonathan Larson characters come together in one production. Maybe it can be the next show we do…? Well, I suppose it would have to be the cosmic forces of friendship that brought me here. (“Cosmic Forces of Friendship” sounds like a bad 90’s campaign ad.) I began attending UC Irvine in 2008 and graduated with my degree in theatre in 2012. But it was during those four years that I had the fortune to meet, work with, and LIVE with our fearless director Clint Foley. After we had both graduated college, he and I unexpectedly joined forces as Cast Members in different departments at Disneyland. When Clint had already founded Up Next Productions, I was asked to audition for their production of [title of show]. I didn’t get cast in that but was asked during mid 2020 if I would participate in their digital cabaret show called Tick, Tick… SOON! That’s when the show first entered my consciousness. In that production I performed the song “Why” and loved the experience. Cut to a year later and I was asked to come to callbacks for this show. That night they offered me the role of Jon, and the ensuing excitement, fun, and brain melting monologue memorization began.
Had you seen a production of TICK, TICK… BOOM! before?
I have never seen a production of TICK, TICK… BOOM! before! Honestly, it’s a little freeing. I have no preconceived ideas of how to play this part other than what’s written and what exists aurally from the original cast album. It would be good to add that according to research I’ve done, I believe I may be the first black actor to portray Jon in a professional production of this show.
Have you previously worked with any of the TICK, TICK… BOOM! cast or creatives?
You already know a bit about my history with Mr. Foley. During college I was also sound designer for ALL THIS INTIMACY which Clint directed. (It became affectionately known as ALL THIS CLINTIMACY.) I have been long time friends as well with our music director Jenna Byrd who I also had the pleasure of seeing but not working directly with at Disneyland. And I am a great friend and admirer of our amazing costume designer and screen actor Autumn Harrison Montgomery whom I met at UC Irvine in the theatre department as well. I knew and went to UC Irvine with Xanthe Huynh who is our sound designer, and Megan Ruble who is on our casting team. Our Stage Manager Angela Kuebelbeck is a colleague from working in Disneyland entertainment.
What would your three-line pitch of TICK, TICK… BOOM! be?
My three-line pitch would be the following:
- Are you racing against a clock you’ve set the time for yourself?
- Are the dreams you’ve had your entire life suffocating underneath what you “should” do?
- See TICK, TICK… BOOM! to know you’re not alone.
You play Jon in TICK, TICK… BOOM! How much did you know of Jonathan Larson before being cast as him?
I knew next to nothing about Jon save for RENT and the two-hour documentary released on the special edition DVD. That documentary has quite a bit about his life that I never knew, and it has incredible insight. I watched it for a second and third time in prep for this show. There is so much I would have loved to ask him about and know more about. But I do know that there were several things about him that directly relate to me and my life. How, you ask? Come to our show and see if you can figure it out.
If you were to submit Jon for a dating site, what qualities would you include?
If I were to include qualities about Jon on a dating site I would include his creativity, musical prowess, kindness, dedication to those he cares about, and unwillingness to quit.
What flaws of his would you definitely omit?
Qualities I would omit are his neurotic nature, self-deprecation, and self-doubt.
If financial compensation were not a factor, where would you prefer to spend your creative energies: Live on a theatrical stage? In a sound booth creating your myriad of voices? Or entertaining the kiddies as their favorite characters at Disneyland and Universal Studios?
I am happy to say I am doing exactly those things! I had a wonderful tenure as a performer at Disneyland and Universal Studios over the course of 11 years. But I have focused my energy on being a full-time voice actor. Luckily, I am able to imbue all of the skills I have gained in my theatrical work into my voice-over work. Nothing has been left behind and I still get to do everything I have been doing on stage just in a different way. It’s been wonderful.
You’ve been noted for your Morgan Freeman impression. What other notables are in your voice arsenal?
I suppose some other notable ones are my impressions of Rod Serling, Crush from Finding Nemo, Homer Simpson, and Jack Sparrow to name a few.
Would you share with us the circumstances that had you running around in your underwear singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls”?
I have my Mom to thank for giving me the gift of removing my dignity on stage from a very early age. She introduced me to the world of theatre basically from the time I first opened my eyes. I was born knowing about the stage, listening to musical theatre LPs, and watching Disney animated films. I have also had a fascination with music and really anything sound-wise since I can remember. I don’t know what I would do without music. So singing and imitating voices I heard was something that just began early and hasn’t really stopped. Running around and singing songs just seemed natural to me. My surprise was that it wasn’t something everyone else did.
Tell us your most memorable takeaways from your experience performing with the renown Troubies.
I think my most memorable takeaway was how much I learned about comedy and stage performance just by absorbing the brilliance from the people around me. I was able to take in and observe the seasoned nature of Matt Walker and Rick Batalla and B.K. (Beth Kennedy) and what they brought to their roles. And I loved meeting other new-ish Troubies and seeing the incredible eye that the company had and still has for knowing who the best people for the job are. I certainly was surprised when Matt called me to perform in HOW THE PRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS which was my first production with them. I thought I was NOT Troubie material at all, but he knew better. I was stretched and challenged and grew more than I can say in my time with them.
What’s in the near future for Isaac Robinson-Smith?
I am very lucky to say that I am actively working on many voice-over projects currently. I am happily sitting on things that have come out that I can share, I am involved with things currently in development, and I have work set in the future I am very excited for. My Facebook (Meta?) as Isaac Robinson-Smith, Instagram and Twitter (both @irsvoices) and my website irsvoices.com have the updates as I am able to share them. And don’t worry. “irs” stands for my initials. I do receive a nice solid income boost around mid-April though. But much like everything in this business, I can’t predict what else might be coming. I’ll be sure to let you know!
Thank you again, Isaac! I look forward to meeting your Jon.
For tickets to the live performances of TICK, TICK… BOOM! through February 13, 2022; log onto www.UpNextProds.com.