Lois Robbins is an accomplished actress who has worked in TV, film and theater. She has been cast in the lead role in Abe Burrow’s Cactus Flower, a play that will begin on February 24th and open on March 10th at the Westside Theatre Upstairs.
Lois is not only a star with an illustrious career, she is also a mother of three children, whom she considers to be her best productions. We were lucky enough to sit down with her for a chat about careers, motherhood, and finding your passion.
How did you start your career as an actress?
I wanted to be an actress from the time I was five years old. I was in a school play where I had to play the month of April, which was the most dramatic role. You know, “April showers bring May flowers.” I had to cry on cue. And I did! Being the youngest of four girls, I was desperate for attention. Once I decided I wanted to be an actress, there was no turning back. My parents were not particularly supportive of my pursuing of an acting career and insisted that I graduate from a liberal arts college. During summer breaks, I participated in some wonderful acting programs, and I was offered a role on a soap opera right out of school. ABC was very loyal to their actors so if I got written out of one role, they would find me a part on another show. The only ABC daytime show I haven’t done is General Hospital. I did a cabaret act, and then I started doing a lot of episodic nighttime work. I’ve appeared on Falcon Crest, Law & Order, Sex & The City and Kingpin. My first movie role was opposite Dudley Moore in Wholly Moses.
When did you transition into theater work?
I’ve always wanted to do Broadway, but it’s not easy. I’m in a business that really pigeon-holes actresses. When I first got out of school, I was seen as a television actress. But once I moved to New York and started my family, I was determined to pursue my passion for theater.
Was it hard to do theater work while at the same time raising a family?
In order to do Broadway you have to have a lot of regional credits. So, for the last 10 years I have spent a great deal of time traveling away from home to perform in regional productions. And now, I’m finally getting my break in New York with my role in Cactus Flower. I almost get weepy talking about it.
How did you meet the director for Cactus Flower?
I was hired to work on a Maltby/Shire production at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Michael Bush, the artistic director, was asked to co-direct and dramaturge. We really hit it off working together and he hired me to do a comedy called Psycho Therapy as part of the Midtown International Theater Festival. That was when we started talking about doing Cactus Flower together.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Cactus Flower?
It was written by Abe Burrows, who was known as the “comedy doctor”. The show was originally produced in New York in 1965, with Lauren Bacall, Barry Nelson and Brenda Vaccaro as the lead roles. I’m playing Lauren Bacall’s part. It’s funny, because out of all the roles I’ve ever done, the character that I play in Cactus Flower is truly my favorite. As an actor, and as a woman, it’s really a Cinderella story. I get to have a metamorphosis. It’s very empowering.
What is it like to be a woman in the acting business?
It’s brutal. It’s an industry where you’re only as good as your last job. And it’s a job that is all about auditioning. It’s funny someone once told me at a very young age that I would work a lot at my current age, because my sophistication would eventually catch up with the numerics. I am really enjoying where I am right now.
Are you happy you stayed with acting, even though it can be very difficult?
Absolutely. There’s nothing else I ever wanted to do. I wake up every day, and I’m so grateful. I get to play dress up as a grown-up.
Did you take time off to raise your children?
I wouldn’t say I took time off. When I was pregnant, I wasn’t auditioning. When I had my first child, Olivia, I went back to work after a few months. I was miserable I just wanted to be at home with my daughter. When you have three kids like I do, it does wreak havoc on your career. I don’t regret my choices at all, my children are my best productions.
Did you find it difficult to return to work after having children?
Not at all. I’m very resourceful. You can’t wait for someone to hire you. You can always develop something for yourself. I was always working on my craft, always developing as an artist.
What is your motto?
“Success always comes when preparation and opportunity meet” by Deepak Chopra
What are your most important achievements?
My children and my marriage. My husband and I have been together for 25 years, and I think that’s a huge achievement in today’s world. His friendship and support are everything to me.
What was it like to grow up with 3 sisters?
It’s fascinating in so many ways, because we are four women who grew up with parents who had very traditional views about women. They thought that we should look beautiful, marry nice men, do charity work, and raise families. Yet all four of us turned out to be creative and ambitious. One is a very successful interior designer and one is a passionate photographer. Another is an extraordinary corporate wife who is very active in the philanthropic world. She’s the closest to what my parents wanted us to be like, and she does it beautifully, with enormous aplomb.
What advice would you give to young women?
Figure out what you are here to accomplish and don’t worry about making money. Worry about pursuing what you’re really passionate about, because if you do that, you’ll always be successful. And make sure you have a partner who supports your dreams.
Is it important for a woman to have control over her finances?
Absolutely. My sisters and I sat on the board of our family’s business and we would always attend the investment meetings. None of us would ever vote against my father because we weren’t secure enough. He should have started to educate us around business and finance at an earlier age, because by the time he wanted us to really be involved, we were already too far along in our own careers.
I want to make sure that my kids do what they love, but I insist that they take economics in college, that they understand how to read financial statements and can balance a checkbook. They have to know how to handle their finances. I think this generation, especially women, is becoming more aware of how important it is to be financially literate.
Lois Robbins Website: loisrobbins.com
Cactus Flower Website: cactusfloweronstage.com