Dr. Daina Robins’ hands fly as she speaks, and her silver ring with a dangling feather jingles. “There’s a famous Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov, of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and I have six degrees of separation from him.” Her statement sets up two important details about Robins. First, she knows theatre, and second, it’s in her blood.
Growing up in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, Robins has been involved with acting from an early age. Her grandparents and parents immigrated to America from Latvia shortly after World War II as refugees, and some of her earliest experiences in the theatre involve being directed by her grandmother in traditional Latvian plays. “I grew up going to the theatre. Attending art events was part of our family’s life. We were always around theatre and I liked doing it,” she said.
Impact on Theatre: A staple of Hope College’s theatre department, Robins has filled many roles at the college since arriving in 1991. Although her appointment at Hope was the result of a “cheap date,” as she joked about costing the college little to interview, Robins sure has stuck around. She began as a theatre professor and added the role of theatre department chair in 1997. “Forever!” she said with a laugh when asked how long she has filled the role of chair. Twenty years later, she continues to teach and head up the department along with directing productions within the department and the Hope Summer Repertory Theatre. Her most recent production, Caryl Churchill’s “Love and Information,” was performed in February.
Rachel Dion’s (’19) time at Hope has been greatly impacted by Robins. “Daina is definitely the rock of our theatre department. She, as chair of the department, has done so much for us and provides us with so many opportunities,” she said. As a theatre major, Dion has experienced Robins in roles as a director, a professor and an advisor. Robins directed Dion in her very first mainstage production as a freshman at Hope, “The Tempest.” “She pushes us hard because she loves us, and believe me, Daina has pushed me hard,” Dion said of Robins’ teaching and directing styles. “She sees the potential in you that you may not see in yourself.”
Robins’ impact in the theatre world stretches beyond Hope College. As a graduate student at Tufts University in Massachusetts, she and a few friends saw potential in their success of a performance they ran. Deciding to continue their partnership, they rented out a theatre in Boston and continued to perform with great success. This led to the development of their own nonprofit theatre, Double Edge Theatre, about two hours outside of Boston. “It’s a company that started off doing more obscure plays and plays that tell female stories,” Robins said. Although she no longer holds an official position at the theatre, Robins periodically goes back to visit and put in her work wherever she is needed, whether it be selling tickets or sweeping floors, as the theatre continues to grow in success.
The Impact of Travel: Though her name may be instantly equated with the theatre department at Hope, it does not comprise the extent of Robin’s passions. Travel has played a huge role in her life. After completing her undergraduate studies and earning a degree in German at Minnesota State University Moorhead, Robins moved abroad to Munich, Germany for two years.
“I wanted to live in Europe. I didn’t want to do just a two-week quick tour,” Robins said regarding her decision to stay in Germany beyond the one year for which she received a scholarship. It was during this time that she met her husband, Peter von Websky. She has not stopped traveling since then, as she and von Websky travel on a yearly basis.
Making a Travel Impact of Her Own: Robins doesn’t need to take time off from work to get out of the country. One of the many ways Robins is a leader in the Hope community is by heading up the popular May Term in Ireland along with Hope professor emeritus, John Tammi. Although she has seen and experienced the majority of the trip each summer for the past three years, her passion for travel and learning is strong. “This year will be her fourth time on the trip, but she still wants to dig in deep,” said Mary Clare Theis (’18), who went on the trip last summer.
Describing her experience as one of the best she has had at Hope College, Theis is thankful for the guidance and insight that Robins had for the students on the trip. “She was very much into educating us and having conversations with us about politics or historical contexts. She was very open to new ideas and at the same time gave us a lot of freedom to explore things on our own,” Theis said.
The worlds of theatre and the travel collide as the May Term in Ireland allows participants to experience traditional Irish plays. Theis says that having Robins in this area was invaluable. “It was cool having her theatre experience on the trip. She had a lot of general knowledge on the arts, which is a huge part of Irish culture. It was always interesting to talk to her about [the plays]. It was cool when we could combine the theatre she’s interested in with the Irish culture that was often a part of the play,” Theis said.
Leading By Example: Robins teaches more than is found in textbooks. One of Robins outstanding qualities is her humility. “It’s co-led, and that’s who really deserves the credit,” Robins said, referring to Tammi when asked about her leadership on the May Term in Ireland trip. “He’s the reason you go; I just do the paperwork.” Theis said Robins truly lived this out on the trip, taking no credit for her own.
Dion also emphasized Robins’ willingness to work one-on-one with students, telling of a time Robins stayed for 30 minutes after a meeting to work specifically with her on a monologue. “Daina is really passionate about her job and that shows through the work she’s willing to put into her students, in the classroom, outside of the classroom, in rehearsal,” Dion said. “Her dedication to this craft and this department is my favorite thing about her.”
Robins has certainly been a strong presence on Hope’s campus, both on the stage and off in her 26 years here. Her love for theatre and travel spreads further than the bounds of campus, however, as her impact is far-reaching, from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota to Boston, Massachusetts to Munich, Germany to Holland, Michigan and far beyond.