You might think Tim Robbins is a California kind of guy, but he's also very comfortable and familiar with upstate New York.
"I grew up in New York City and went to SUNY-Plattsburgh for two years before transferring to UCLA," said Robbins, whose play, "The New Colossus," will be performed by the Acting Gang, Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. at Proctors. "I applied to two SUNY schools, Buffalo and Plattsburgh. I ended up going to Plattsburgh and fell in love with the Adirondacks."
He also had a deep passion for acting, which sent him back out to the West Coast, where he was born, and the UCLA Film School, where he graduated from in 1981 with a degree in drama. It was there that he and some friends formed their own acting troupe, the Acting Gang, and it was for that troupe that Robbins started putting together a production of "The New Colossus," a series of 12 stories about people leaving an oppressive homeland. While he's not in the cast, Robbins is directing this touring production and will be at Proctors to lead a discussion following the show.
"We started doing this about two and a half years ago and then took it on tour for the first time last January," said Robbins, who has starred in movies such as "Shawshank Redemption" and "Bull Durham," to name just a few. "What we try to do is create an experience for the audience and every different performance is unique. Then I come out and talk to the audience when the show is over and ask them to tell me their immigration stories. We want people to know what it's like to be a refugee."
Robbins and a few fellow actors began writing and working on the show around four years ago during the Syrian refugee crisis. Since then, however, several other elements have come into play and the show has been expanded to include the wider immigration story.
"It's twelve actors telling their story, their journey from oppression to freedom," said Robbins. "They find a boat, they reach a place, and then they have to plead their case. Then we let the audience decide. Should we let them in?"
"The New Collosus" also addresses the Native American story and slavery.
"I may ask if there are any indigenous people in the audience, or anybody descended from ancestors who came here against their will in chains," said Robbins. "That's one of the major sins in our country's history that we really haven't atoned for. We kidnapped people and we destroyed their culture. I'll also ask if there are immigrants here, and then I'll ask if there are descendants of immigrants here. By then nearly everyone's hands are up. So we all have this in our DNA. We all came from people who risked their lives to make an incredible journey and had the strength and resilience to survive and make future generations.
"It seems like we're always being encouraged to dislike each other," continued Robbins. "So it's important to remind us that we all share something very important. I actually ask people to share their story, and we get audience members who will do exactly that."
On most of the tour, Robbins has the crew put up a map in the theater lobby where people can grab a small magnetic pin and place it on the map, indicating where their ancestors are from.
"When we did it in Los Angeles, it seemed like every night the entire world was represented by our audience," he said. "The diversity was pretty remarkable, and we always get a pretty good cross section of people no matter where we are."
Robbins was born in West Covina, California in 1958 before moving to New York City in the early 60s where his father, Gilbert Lee Robbins, was playing in a folk music band called The Highwaymen. He acted in the drama club at Stuyvesant High School - class of 1976 - and started his professional career on the stage in the New York City area before once again heading west in 1982 to play domestic terrorist Andrew Reinhardt in three episodes of the television series, "St. Elsewhere."
His big breakthrough role was that of Nuke LaLoosh in the baseball film, "Bull Durham," and perhaps his most significant role came as Andy Dufresne in the 1994 prison drama, "Shawshank Redemption," along side Morgan Freeman. In it, Robbins' character is falsely accused of killing his wife and sentenced to prison.
"It was the best script I ever read and really became a classic film," said Robbins. "How could you not love it. I get stopped on the street, people come up to me in airports, and tell me how that movie had a positive impact on them. It's such an important film to me. I've probably watched it 20 times. Whenever I get depressed I watch it and my whole perspective shifts. It was a real blessing to be involved in that movie."
'The New Colossus'
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $25
MORE INFO: Call (518) 346-6204 or visit www.proctors.org