Discorded notes hummed out of the old black piano as freshman Robby Crone fumbled with its keys. He said with a smile — “I got this.” He shifted his posture and gleamed at the weathered piano keys and started playing again.
A first-year student from Emporia, Kansas, Crone hit the ground running by pursuing his dream to obtain a career in performing arts.
Originally studying pre-pharmacy, Crone quickly switched his major to follow one of his greatest passions in life.
“I got here and realized I was going to hate the coursework and the field in general,” Crone said. “So, I went on to try out what I wanted to do which is theater education.”
Robby went through many challenges while growing up in Emporia. After his father Chad suffered a fatal heat stroke in 1999, he was raised by a single mother.
“Money was always a problem,” Crone said. “My mom was a single mother who didn’t make a lot at her job. She had trouble getting money for food and rent. This past year when I was a senior in high school, I don’t even remember a time when we’d eat at my house.”
Fumbling with the large and dark buttons of his cardigan, Crone said that he and his mother often found themselves at his grandmother’s to shower and eat.
“My mother and grandma have always done everything they could and then some,” he said. “My grandma has been the financial rock that has helped us survive, so I’m really grateful I have her in my life.”
Crone was always involved in theater productions as a child. Since then, he played different roles in community shows.
“It’s a big part of my life,” Crone said. “My first show was Jungle Book in which I was a monkey. I think the reaction from the audience is what made me love [theater] most—making someone laugh.”
Citing his favorite show as “Into the Woods,” Crone said he really enjoyed playing the show’s main character Jack because of his fellow cast members.
“I like that it’s about fairy tales and what happens after the characters get their happy ending,” Crone said. “They don’t actually live this perfect life. I think I like it because it says not everything is perfect.”
Crone said he sees a parallel between the plot for “Into the Woods” and his life.
“Bad things happen to you and they end up being a shitty, unneeded part of your life,” Crone said. “But there’s not really a way to avoid them.”
One of the places in which Crone performed often was at Young Thespian Players in Emporia. Young Thespian Players runs two to three shows a year and Crone said he was involved in nearly every one of those shows throughout his childhood.
Young Thespian Players Director Penni Hansen sought out talented young people interested in theater when she first set up the group. It was then that she found Crone.
“He is the type of kid I was looking for when I started YTP,” Hansen said. “Someone who wanted to learn and had some good raw talent.”
Hansen also saw Crone develop his acting skills over the years that he was active with the group.
“He put in the time needed to become one of the most versatile performers I had,” Hansen said. “Robby always accepted the challenges I gave him with each show. As Robby grew, his confidence grew but his ego seemed to be in check. I will always have a special place in my heart for him.”
Crone’s involvement with theater ultimately led him and his fellow high school classmate Alec Garcia to receive a superior rating for his duet musical theater performance of “It’s All for the Best” in 2014. This was one of only 12 superior ratings given to 112 students competing in performance-related events at the Kansas State Thespian Conference in January 2013. These 12 students qualified to compete at the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska during the summer of 2014.
“When they called our names on stage in front of 2,000 people attending [the state] conference, it was exhilarating,” Crone said. I didn’t cry but my heart was racing and me and my partner got up and hugged each other and screamed.”
Going forward, Crone wants to participate in as many shows as possible during his college career. He is currently involved in a self-written and produced show under sophomore student director Michael Wysong from Larned, Kansas. Opening in May of 2015, a group of nine university students will perform this show as a part of an initiative for the student theater, which is undergoing a grant writing process for the spring 2015 semester.
“We’re currently writing the show and it’s about all kinds of relationships,” Crone said. “Nobody knows what their part in the show is yet, but think Michael is doing a lot of work and I trust him.”
As the conversation continued, Crone’s face lit up with excitement the more he divulged about this upcoming show.
“It feels surreal,” Crone said. “It’s cool because I get to write and perform songs that no one has ever done before.”
Fellow cast member and sophomore Adam Reeves from Pleasant Hill, Missouri has seen first-hand the quality involvement that Crone puts into the preparation of this show.
“Although Robby is a freshman, he fits right in with the upperclassmen and is an important contributor to the show dynamic,” Reeves said.
Beyond his current involvement, Crone said he hopes to graduate and teach theater to young people.
“I want to have a long-lasting relationship with theater,” Crone said. “I want to teach kids what I was taught when I grew up. I want to supply them with the tools to succeed.”
His biggest fear for the future is that theater will gradually disappear and become a smaller part in his life.
“I sing every damn day,” Crone said. “I get up every morning to get ready and I sing in the shower. Maybe I could perform as a career, but I really hope that it’s a part of my life when I’m older.”