Robin Wood; spread her love of theater to varied audiences

Robin Wood taught at the Cambridge School of Weston. Robin Wood taught at the Cambridge School of Weston.
By Gloria Negri
Globe Staff / March 26, 2009
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Robin Wood so loved the theater that she dedicated her life to making it available to others, in particular those unable to hear the rich language of Brecht and Cocteau or the music of "The Pajama Game" or "The Pirates of Penzance."

Mrs. Wood - who spent a lifetime in the theater as actor, teacher, and director - died Feb. 23 at Massachusetts General Hospital of a combination of heart disease and cancer, said her husband, Jeremy Scott Wood. She was 64 and lived in Weston.

In spite of her failing health, her husband said, she continued to teach up to a week before she died. She taught at the Cambridge School of Weston, a private school for grades 9 through 12, where she started in 1970.

Years ago, while heading the school's drama department, she went to Ron Galiazzo of Andover to learn sign language to teach her student actors to sign for deaf audience members. In Galiazzo, deaf since a childhood illness, Mrs. Wood saw hope for her mission. He was a graduate of Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf in Washington, D.C., came from a musical family, and loved the theater.

"Robin was my mentor," Galiazzo said through a telephone translator. He worked with Mrs. Wood in the drama department for 23 years as a consultant and sometimes as a codirector and an actor in the school's "Pocket Players," a touring children's acting group inspired by Mrs. Wood that uses spoken and sign language.

"Robin had a huge, huge impact on countless students, both deaf and hearing" by making the theater accessible to the nonhearing population, Galiazzo said. "When funds were cut [for the drama program], Robin always found other sources."

Jane Moulding, head of school, said on the Cambridge School website that Mrs. Wood "touched the lives of many, changed the lives of many, and she saved the lives of some. . . . She was one of the keepers of our values as a progressive school. She believed in the discipline of learning in the theater and did not believe in half measures, only full and complete."

The many students whose lives she touched adored her, said Emily Melnick of Watertown, now in her senior year at The Cambridge School. She appeared in many plays Mrs. Wood directed.

"She was a phenomenal mentor and a phenomenal teacher and one of the most passionate people," Melnick said. "She really cared about her students. As soon as she saw a spark of an interest in you or potential, she taught us that no matter how challenging anything was or impossible things seem, you could do it."

Lisa Hirsch, chairwoman of the school's theater department, said on the school website: "Theater here was always about the students for Robin, who believed theater skills are life skills. But it was also about collaboration and ensemble work and writing, directing, acting, improvisation, technical aspects, and design."

In addition to the Pocket Players and the American Sign Language program, Mrs. Wood inspired other programs at the school. One was the Children's Garden, a day-care program for preschoolers she and another teacher started when their own children were that age. Another was the antidrug program Students Advocating for Life without Substance Abuse, or SALSA.

Robin Benensohn Rosefsky was born in Binghamton, N.Y., to Dr. Israel J. and Elsie Benensohn Rosefsky. She attended The Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and was active in theatrical projects there. She earned her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania and received a master's of fine arts in directing from Yale University.

While pursuing her master's, Mrs. Wood worked with the undergraduate theater group in Ezra Stiles College, one of the residential colleges at Yale, and taught theater at Indian Hill Arts Workshop in Stockbridge.

After graduating from Yale, she spent time in Paris studying mime with, among others, Marcel Marceau. Later in life, she studied at a clown school.

In 1970, she married Jeffrey Scott Wood, an architectural student she had met at Yale.

Soon after arriving at the Cambridge School, Mrs. Wood charmed everyone with her drive and passion for theater.

She directed two full-length plays a year, in fall and spring, Hirsch recalled. Then, there were her playwriting class, her acting class, and her directing.

"She never stopped and was always involved in projects and people, a strong, wonderful woman and funny," Hirsch said.

To better serve the nonhearing world, she spent the summer of 1988, while her children were in camp, studying sign language at Gallaudet.

"Mom was superintense, superdriven, supportive, and enthusiastic for all of us," said her son Jonas, an artist in Los Angeles.

Next to her family and the theater, she loved animals, all kinds of which lived outside her home in Weston. Chickens were kept only for their eggs; they had ducks, goats, and cockatiels.

"Mother always said if she lived to be 80, she would go back to school and become a veterinarian," said her daughter Alexis, a nurse, of Minneapolis.

Said another daughter, Augusta, a photographer in Los Angeles: "As she had with her students, mother encouraged us to choose a career right for us and then be the best we can."

Mrs. Wood's efforts to make theater available to everyone will be on display again in April, when students will sing - and sign - the musical "Anything Goes." That would please Mrs. Wood, Galiazzo said.

In addition to her husband, two daughters, and son, Mrs. Wood leaves two brothers, Dr. Jonathan B. Rosefsky of Wynnewood, Penn., and Dr. Quinn B. Rosefsky of Wellesley; and one grandchild.

A celebration of Mrs. Wood's life will take place at 11 a.m. June 14 at the Cambridge School.

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