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Young Achievers: Blumey Award winner builds stage presence

Robert Briner signs to perform in ‘Dreamgirls’ with prestigious outdoor company in St. Louis

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  • Meet Robert Briner

    Age: 17

    School: Northwest School of the Arts.

    Background: Played football (linebacker, safety) for six years before becoming an actor.

    Favorite musical: “West Side Story.”

    Favorite musical artist: Michael Buble.

    Advice to males trying to break into the acting industry: “Whatever your strengths are, use them to your fullest advantage ... (And) you have to love what you do. If you don’t love being onstage and performing, then there is no point.”

    What makes a successful actor/actress? “Confidence! When I’m onstage, I know I’m going to give that scene everything I have. … Also, dedication: There isn’t a day where I don’t do at least one thing to help improve my craft.”

    Performed with: Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, CPCC Summer Theater, Carolina Voices/Charlotte Symphony and NWSA productions.

    “Dreamgirls” show: The MUNY production will be directed by Robert Clater and will feature Tony and Grammy award winner Jennifer Holliday.

    Fall plans: Will attend Point Park University, a liberal arts school in Pittsburgh.

In the spring of eighth grade, Robert Briner faced a dilemma. Should he try out for the high school football team, or perform in the middle school play?

At that point, he had played football for six years, and though he thought he might be too small at 5-foot-6 for the Independence High team, he knew what it took to be a linebacker or safety and part of a defensive team.

What he didn’t know was how to be a part of a musical theater team. He had never performed onstage, and the most singing he’d done was belting tunes while mowing the lawn.

Robert left behind the comfort of football and chose the stage.

“He chose the play over football – and he lived and breathed (football),” said Robert’s father, Jody Briner (pronounced “bry-ner”).

That year, Jay M. Robinson Middle put on a production of “High School Musical” and cast Robert as Chad, a basketball player and the main character’s best friend.

Farewell to football

After the performance, Robert decided to give acting a shot. He even switched schools so he could spend his high school years at Northwest School of the Arts.

Once at Northwest, he said, a spring production of “Aida,” a four-act opera, confirmed his love of acting.

“It was such a heartfelt show, and the cast was amazing,” Robert said. “I’d never done anything that big before.”

From there, Robert started to give his acting career everything he had. “Acting can’t be a hobby. I’m always trying to improve my skills,” he said. “And I’m always there mentally. You have to love what you do.”

For the past four years, Robert has tried to heighten his skill set by attending dance classes at Eddie Mabry Talent in Fort Mill, S.C., and JBP Entertainment in uptown Charlotte. “Dance helps me to express myself,” he said.

National recognition

Now his talents are being recognized on a national level.

Robert has been contracted to join the St. Louis MUNY Opera – America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theatre – for its summer production of “Dreamgirls,” where he is cast in the ensemble.

He said he must have won over casting directors at his audition for “Dreamgirls,” because they gave him the part on the spot.

“It was surreal and it was a lot to take in,” Robert said, smiling. “It didn’t hit me for a week.”

Landing the part follows Robert’s win as best featured performer at Charlotte’s inaugural Blumey Awards. Robert won a Blumey in late May for his role as A-Rab in Northwest School of the Arts’ production of “West Side Story.”

The 2012 Blumenthal Performing Arts High School Musical Theater Awards ceremony honored young entertainers in 13 categories. With the addition of the Blumeys, Charlotte joins more than 30 cities offering a high-school version of the Tonys.

Robert attributes a portion of his success to the fact that the musical theater industry is looking for masculine males. To be successful, Robert said, actors should try to fill a needed niche in the industry.

“As you could guess, there are a lot more female interests in theater than there are males, so masculinity and confidence is a huge turn-on with casting directors,” he said.

Asked about Robert’s success, Corey Mitchell, a theater teacher at Northwest, joked and said, “Obviously his training and his phenomenal teachers.

“But seriously, Robert has really been committed, and it’s beginning to pay off for him as a performer. It has been a while since we’ve had someone right out of high school sign a national contract.”

Mitchell advises Robert to “stay humble and stay kind. Remember the biggest stars are also the kindest stars.”

To prepare for his national showcase, Robert plans to apply for his equity card before leaving for St. Louis in July. An equity card provides proof that an actor is a member of the Actors’ Equity Association of the United States or the British Equity. Cardholders have fewer restrictions on attending casting calls, as well as contract benefits of wages, length of work day, health insurance and 401(k) plan.

Robert’s family said they will be front and center for the performance in St. Louis. Tanya Briner, Robert’s stepmother, said they already need to purchase 17 tickets for family members to attend. “We are so proud of him,” she said.

“I’m just so excited,” Robert said. “This is huge.”

Penland: 704-358-6043; Twitter @BrittanyPenland
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