CityLaw Profile: Robert Carroll – Bridging Politics and Theater

Robert Carroll, playwright, "The Believers"

Robert Carroll, playwright, “The Believers”

Robert Carroll graduated New York Law School in 2013 and his first written play The Believers opened in 2014.  While a person could draw many inferences about Robert Carroll’s career path from examining his family history, “playwright” is not likely one that immediately comes to mind.  The 28 year old has pursued his interests in theater and politics in parallel, demonstrating a conscious refusal to let his job description restrict him all the while.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Robert comes from a line of Brooklyn politicos.  His grandfather was a co-founder of Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, a political club largely serving the Park Slope and Windsor Terrace neighborhoods.  Robert is now the current president.  Robert’s father, also a former CBID club president, is an accomplished election law attorney and experienced political operative who ran against Bill De Blasio in the 2001 Democratic primary for the 39th council district.  “My father once told me about the time he took me to picket a local elected official’s office when I was about five or six years old,” recalls Robert.  “Politics were omnipresent growing up, there were always political people around my father’s house, and civic-mindedness just seeped in by osmosis.”

Robert’s theater work began in high school and continued through college, where he graduated with a history degree from SUNY Binghamton in May 2007.  By Robert’s admission, he nearly had enough credits in theater to graduate with a double major, but chose to forego the required workshop classes and return to Brooklyn.

Robert spent the three years after graduation pursuing both of his passions, working on productions both on and off-stage and consulting with political campaigns in Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Robert was able to continue this work even into law school, consulting on local primary election campaigns during his first semester at New York Law School.  “I don’t like to pigeonhole myself into one specific thing where I go ‘Okay, I’m a law student now, so that means I’ve got to just be a law student and that’s all I am.’  I’m lucky that I’m young enough where I have a little more freedom to go and take some risks that, at a different stage in my life, I wouldn’t be able to do.”

Robert began writing The Believers in 2010 as a first-year law student with the intent the play would make its way to the stage, but he also valued the diversion from the traditional first-year workload.  “You want to take your studies seriously, your profession seriously, but without a balance, you risk becoming pedantic to your friends and family.  No one wants to be that person who walks down the street and only sees what torts people are committing.”  The writing progress began in earnest by the end of his first semester, and by the start of his second he had enough material for a closed reading.

Robert recognizes playwright is a nontraditional career path for someone with a J.D., but argues there is more in common between the two than most realize.  “I think at the core of law, of politics, of theater is that they are all about communicating ideas.  In each field, it’s a matter of how we tell our stories.  In law, you tell your client’s story.  In politics, you tell the story of your candidate or your issue.  In theater, you tell a story to entertain, but you want the audience to come away thinking or feeling something that you intended.”

With The Believers, Robert set out to tell a story of a young campaign manager in the final hours of the first campaign he’s ever run, and how idealism, practicality, and radicalism can blend together under outside pressure.  Drawing bits and pieces from his life experiences, Robert says he understands how people start earnest and well-intentioned and can become radicalized while claiming to maintain their image of acting from good intentions.  “There’s always hope before [election day] that it’s not over yet.  I think there’s a desperation from that to not leave anything to chance.  You know if you ease up in the last five yards of the race, and someone ekes by you, it doesn’t matter you led for the first ninety-five yards because it’s ‘Who passes the post first?’”

Going forward, Robert plans to continue keeping a hand in as many pots as possible.  “If you had told me that a year after graduation I’d have a play I wrote produced, I wouldn’t have thought that could be.  I don’t know what a couple years will show, but as long as I have the time, I’ll keep up with the different opportunities.”  He currently works as an attorney at Wolfson & Carroll in Manhattan, and is working to mount a second production run of The Believers elsewhere in New York City.  For more information on The Believers, read our CityLand review.

By:  Michael Twomey (Michael is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2014).

[CORRECTION] A previous version of this story incorrectly gave Mr. Carroll’s age as 30.  He is 28.  The Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats represent Park Slope and Windsor Terrace, not Greenpoint.  We regret the errors.

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