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Good Folks: Robb Dimmick’s work with Providence youth takes center stage


In more than three decades of introducing city kids to the arts, Robb Dimmick has developed an eye for spotting students with the drive to make a career in the entertainment industry, like a young Viola Davis, back in 1982.

“You could tell from minute one she had drive, conviction and passion and this is something she wanted to do,” Dimmick said of Davis. “Ninety-nine percent of kids don’t go on to careers in the performing arts, but you can see the potential in some that just make a beeline for the brass ring.”

Oscar-winner Davis is one of the hundreds of teenagers Dimmick has worked with as a volunteer over the years, combining teaching and performing and mixing in history with acting and jazz.

The program director for the nonprofit group Stages of Freedom, Dimmick’s first theater work with Providence teens came at the West End Community Center, which is where he worked with Davis.

“My passion is teaching both theater and jazz to urban youth as ways for them to connect to their personal identity and heritage and getting a sense of who they are,” Dimmick, 62, said in a phone interview.

A theater major at the University of New Hampshire, Dimmick realized that he enjoyed teaching as much as acting and decided to double-major in education.

As an actor, Dimmick is probably best known for portraying President Abraham Lincoln in touring productions, a role he played for 30 years before retiring his beard in 2013.

Stages of Freedom, which Dimmick started with executive director Ray Rickman, promotes African-American history, teaches swimming to children of color and connects them with mentors.

While he has moved on from the West End Community Center, Dimmick still directs two plays each year at two public schools in Providence.

For the last 15 years, Dimmick has also run Jazz as a Rainbow, an intensive summer program that teaches children of color the history of jazz, the songbook and vocal techniques.

Each year, Dimmick takes the program’s participants to the Newport Jazz Festival.

What has he learned over the years from teaching children history and the arts?

“The primary thing I have learned about young people is they are underappreciated by our society at large,” Dimmick said. “They are willing to take risks and be challenged. They are not set in their ways, so you can accomplish extraordinary things by pushing them.”

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