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Memories of Robroy: Playhouse founder set a high standard

Alan Sader (left) and Robroy Farquhar performed in “The Amorous Prawn” in 1962. [Photo courtesy of Alan Sader] Alan Sader (left) and Robroy Farquhar performed in “The Amorous Prawn” in 1962. [Photo courtesy of Alan Sader]

The elaborate production of "Les Miserables" on the main stage of the Flat Rock Playhouse is a long way from the summer stock that Alan Sader remembers from 50 years ago.

alan-sader-augist-2012Alan SaderSader grew up in Brevard, the son of Dr. Julius Sader and Barbara Sader (who went by Julie and Billy). After graduating from Christ School in Asheville, Sader enrolled in Duke to study pre-med. When he dropped that course of study, he decided to try a couple of roles with the Duke Players. That's when he first met Robroy Farquhar, the British-born Vagabond School of the Drama founder whose Flat Rock Playhouse was just 10 years old at the time.
"We were doing the Southeastern Theatre Conference," said Sader, who went on to a 50-year career in acting and public relations. "Robby came up and introduced himself to me and asked me was I free for the summer."
The audition launched Sader's professional acting career, and brought him back home to the North Carolina mountains for two seasons of summer stock theatre under a teacher he came to admire and love.
"It was a full day," he said of the work then. Leona, Robroy's wife "was the dietician and she was a vegetarian but she provided the meal in the main house in the porch. It was really good. The box office was in the basement with a window out on the parking lot. The first year I lived upstairs, in a dorm where apprentices lived."
After breakfast, the actors went right into rehearsal, catching whatever time they could to memorize lines.
"We'd rehearse almost all day with a break for lunch and a break for dinner and a performance in the evening," he said.
The work on the Rock today is not necessarily easier; actors perform in a big musical eight times a week and rehearse the upcoming show in the morning. The pace of shows was faster in the '60s. "We probably did 10 to 12 shows," Sader said. "Some musicals ran two weeks and everything else ran one week. It was intense work. To be working in professional theater at all was wonderful. I met good friends.
RobroyAlan Sader and Robroy Farquhar perform in 'But Not Goodbye'"Most of the actors who were there were from New York that I worked with. Pre-television, some had been radio actors and some were my age or a little older. One guy, Gil Rogers, was in several soap operas."
Sader loves to remember his first theater mentor.


'A unique character'
"When you say his name it just puts a smile on my face," he said. "He was a unique character. He seemed flighty and spaced out or something but he was the guy that created the Vagabond players, which grew into the Flat Rock Playhouse. It's a wonderful relationship with the community, and the state theatre."

Some of his fondest memories are of travel with Robroy when the Playhouse took "The World of Carl Sandburg" on the road to high school stages around the state.
Farquhar was friends with the great poet and folk singer who lived across the road at Connemara.
"He invited me to come along with him when we went and asked for permission to tour with his material but also to borrow some things to take along with us," he said. They borrowed a rocking chair from his front porch and one of his guitars.
"I was awestruck, in the way one is when you meet someone that is just world famous," Sader said.
"When we toured with the 'World of Carl Sandburg' we stayed in motels and we went into two or three high schools a day," he said. "I was the stage manager and Robbie was with us and he was my roommate. Robbie snored really loud so when he started to snore I'd shout out most anything to wake him up, because then he'd stop snoring.
"Robbie and I rode in in my brand new 3-cylinder Saab," he said. "You had to mix a quart of oil with eight gallons of gas. Robbie was diabetic and he always carried a quart of milk with him. He didn't refrigerate it and sometimes it would spoil and that didn't bother him; he drank it anyway. I never knew him to have a problem."

Don't forget the duck
One time the stage manager and director adopted a duck and carried it from town to town, letting it waddle around stage during the day and swim in motel bathtubs at night. Sader gave it to a farmer and even went to visit it once, although he was not sure his feathered traveling companion remembered him.
"Robbie was fascinating," he said. "He was an absolute dapper gentleman and he was just fun and funny and a very astute director as well. I think some people might think he couldn't stay still long enough (to focus on directing) because he was doing a thousand things. When he directed a show, he was fascinating. He was wonderful to work for and to work with. I counted him as a friend because we had a close relationship."
Like young actors today getting their start on stage at Flat Rock, Sader appreciates the experience of learning the craft in a supportive environment. The white-bearded Sader now lives in Richmond with his family. He still acts, and he has been the television voice and face of the Children's Fund since 1992.
He sent along black-and-white photos of himself and Robroy in two plays from the 1962-63 seasons — "The Amorous Prawn" and "But Not Goodbye," when Farquhar played a ghost.
"Robbie had distinctive speech, still holding on to a bit of his Liverpool origins, but he also had what might be called a speech defect," he said. "R's and L's had a strong hint of W, a bit like Barbara Walters. It added to his charm."