U of I Student Graduates with a Degree in Theatre After 31-Year Military Career
Robin Bonta, fulfills a lifelong dream to be in theatre and earns her BFA in Theatre Arts, after serving in the Marine Corps and the National Guard
Robin Bonta was certain she wanted to study theater in college after graduating from high school in Yakima, Washington. But, when she found two Marine Corps recruiters at her front door, Bonta realized her father had other plans for her.
“I was your typical theatre nerd, involved in all of my high school plays, but my dad felt I was too smart for theater, which is funny because I don’t think I’ve met a stupid theater student yet,” Bonta said. Now, at age 55, Bonta is following her high school passions.
After serving in the United States Marines and the Washington Air National Guard for more than 31 years, Bonta will graduate from the University of Idaho in May 2018 with her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Arts.
Joining the Military
When Bonta first met with Marine recruiters in 1980, women only served as cooks, in clerical positions or in air-conditioned maintenance vans. By the time she completed basic training, the rules had changed.
“My orders out of aviation technical school stated I was going to the flight line as a helicopter electrician,” Bonta said. “My instructors had to take me out to the hallway and show me a picture of the helicopter I’d be working on because the airplane you work on during training is just a regular fixed wing.”
“There is something so rewarding about them calling you out, rotor’s turning and burning, and you duck under there and you run in and you change everything while it is all still running and then they taxi out and you can watch them fly off,” Bonta said.
After serving in the Marines for over seven years, Bonta enrolled at Spokane Community College. There she earned her associate degree of applied science in aircraft maintenance. This allowed her to receive her Federal Aviation Administration license to work on civilian airplanes.
Bonta joined the Washington Air National Guard in 1990, and in 2000, she became the first female supervisor in maintenance. She deployed to Germany 11 times, as well as Guam, Japan, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan and Italy. She retired in 2014 after 24 years of service.
“When it came to trying to decide what I wanted to do, after everything I had seen in the Marine Corps and in the Guard, I didn’t want it to be life and death anymore,” Bonta said. “I just wondered what I could do after retiring and have fun doing that I love and am passionate about. That was theater. And my skill set from the military actually aligns pretty well with technical production side of theatre.”
Following Her Dreams
This May, Bonta will earn her Bachelor in Fine Arts in Theater Arts with an emphasis in design and technology. After graduation, Bonta hopes to continue working as a stage manager for plays and to continue traveling around the United States.
Stage managers have the overall responsibility to have a smooth-running show. Bonta said stage mangers handle all rehearsals, reports and stage cues, including actors, lights, sound, and stage effects.
“If you have a good show, nobody will say anything to you because that is your job,” Bonta said.
While at U of I, Bonta has worked on a number of plays in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. These included assistant stage managing “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” stage managing “The Dumb Waiter” and doing set design for “Last Mother in the House of Chavis.”
Bonta’s work has garnered awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, a national theater program that recognizes outstanding talent in the theatre arts. Bonta received an award for assistant stage managing “A Christmas Carol” and one for construction and design for “Dead Man’s Cellphone.”
Last summer, Bonta enjoyed an internship with the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, a Tony Award-winning theater. Bonta worked as a stage management intern, similar to the work she has done on U of I’s campus.
“When my instructors here found out that I had received this internship, they reacted like I had won a big Powerball,” Bonta said. “Quite honestly, the thing that got me the internship started with a conversation about my military experience.”
She also hopes to give more of a voice to people who, up until this point, have not received as much recognition as they deserved thus far.
“The thing that I am the most passionate about when it comes to theater is that it is still very much focused on the classical plays, written by old, dead white guys. But the most impactful, most amazing, incredibly mind-blowing, heart-expanding shows I have ever read have not been any of those,” Bonta said.
“There are really cool playwrights writing really universal plays today. And we don’t share them enough. Someday, when I establish a toe-hold out there, I want to encourage more of that.”
Article by Madison Perdue ’18, Public Relations, CLASS
Published April 2018