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Quiet, firm, exacting, Frank Roberts remembered

Frank Roberts, an unassuming on-stage coaching legend over 35 years to thousands of Arlington High School alumni, including comedian Dane Cook and Tony Award-winning costume designer Susan Hilferty, died in August at 69. Here's how Pat Tassone, interim head of performing arts, remembers him, in his own words:

Frank Roberts

"I worked with Frank from the time I began teaching in Arlington (September 1972), until Frank retired in 2001

"I began teaching at the now-closed Gibbs Jr. High School (then known as Junior High East), moved to the high school in 1980 and became department head in 1999.

"Frank was such a fabulous director that he had many memorable shows. However, his production of 'Grease' in 1990, a show he didn't particularly like, was memorable, as it featured a young Dane Cook as the lead. 

"But I feel that his last production, 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,' a musical I had been trying to get him to do for many years, was exceptional.

"This was no doubt helped by the fact that we were able to acquire the then-recently released Broadway revival costumes designed by a former student of ours at AHS, Susan Hilferty, who then went on to win a Tony Award for costume-design for the musical 'Wicked.' 

"Frank was a quiet man.

"He exuded a calm about him, which always attracted students' attention and affection.

"Every student who really worked with him felt/feels that he/she had a special relationship with him.

"In his quiet determined way, Frank made students truly work to their potential by never settling for less that their best. 

"He would only give up when he felt that the student could give no more. This meant that student(s) might repeat a scene, gesture, entrance, exit 10 to 15 times until they got it right.

"This was done without Frank ever raising his voice, which, in turn assured him that in those rare occasions when he did raise his voice (read: roar), they would absolutely freeze in their tracks.  

"After which, sometimes instantaneously, he would resume his 'quiet' persona.

"At the final performance of every production, Frank would congratulate the students and quickly exit. Unless I or someone else brought it up, he would not discuss the performance any further. 

Role as a teacher

"Another point that I feel should be mentioned is Frank's role as a teacher.

Remember that Frank taught a four-year theater-arts program at AHS. This means that, given the restrictions of cast sizes, most of the students did not perform in our fall and spring productions.

"I have heard from many who were [and] are grateful that Frank taught them to be confident and poised in public at this awkward stage of their lives, even if they had no desire to be on production stage.

"Finally, I feel that Frank made each and every one of his students, in class and on the stage, feel that they had had their moment as 'stars.'"

For more testimonials about Roberts, see >>

NOTE: A memorial service to honor Roberts has been scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 7, at the Reagle Music Theatre of Boston in Waltham, tentatively scheduled for 3 p.m.

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