Hazel Robinson, known as the first lady of theater in Asheville for founding the Montford Park Players who, has died, according to Asheville Citizen-Times reporter Tony Kiss, who delivered the news via Facebook.
Robinson reigned as the first lady of theater in the arts town of Asheville after creating the theater group in 1973. She was a devoted fan of Shakespeare, and the acting troupe has performed the bard’s plays year after year in outdoor arenas. (The group has also performed A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens for years each holiday season.) The Montford Park Players now have a home at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater adjacent to the Montford Community Center in the Montford neighborhood.
Robinson, who moved to Asheville in the 1950s, was active in Asheville’s Tanglewood Children’s Theater when her children were young, and at Asheville Community Theater, where she served as technical director for about eight years. She and her husband, John, started the Montford Park Players in 1973.
Here’s more about the Robinsons from an announcement about the couple being honored as “living treasures” by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville, as printed in the Urban News:
The Montford Park Players celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2012 as North Carolina’s longest-running Shakespeare Festival. Hazel Robinson has served as founding director, play director, actor, designer, and “everything else,” while her husband John’s roles have included accountant, budget director, videographer, archivist – and occasional actor.
Hazel was born in Bogue Chitto, Mississippi; her father was a WWI veteran hospitalized at Oteen; her mother, a teacher, brought the family to Asheville to be close to him. After graduating from Montreat High School in 1941, Hazel attended UNC Chapel Hill, where she participated in the famed Carolina Players.
John spent his childhood in Long Prairie, MN where his father was associated with the Chevrolet dealership and his mother was County Superintendent of Schools. He majored in math, physics, and chemistry at the University of Minnesota.
Hazel and John met through a common interest in Dianetics, and they married in 1954. After their move to Asheville, John worked as an accountant and corporate auditor while Hazel raised four children and worked whenever she could in theater – including as Technical Director for Asheville Community Theater.
They moved to Cumberland Avenue in 1971, when Montford Park was nicknamed “Needle Park”; and having attended outdoor theater in Minneapolis, Hazel said, “We should have something like this in Asheville.” In 1973, using $50 from their grocery money, Hazel produced As You Like It in the park, and Montford Park Players was born. Over the four decades since, MPP developed a summer season, established an annual production of A Christmas Carol, and became a non-profit with a year-round season. Now housed in an outdoor amphitheater behind Montford Community Center, summer productions are still free, and audiences are generous when actors pass the hat. During MPP’s 25th anniversary season in 1977, the city named the auditorium the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater.