Kenneth Roberson has gone from humble beginnings in Thomson to realizing his dreams in New York. Mr. Roberson is now choreographing musicals for Broadway.
"He was always interested in acting and dancing ... he took classes at the University of Georgia. Then, he took off for New York like countless others have done ... and it mushroomed from there. Now he's got a show on Broadway ... and going to California ... and Vegas," Nettie Roberson, his sister-in-law, said.
Mr. Roberson grew up in Thomson, where he attended elementary school at R.L. Norris Elementary. Ms. Roberson remembers him winning dance competitions each summer at Rock Eagle 4-H Camp. After graduating from Thomson High School, Mr. Roberson received his degree in journalism and advertising from UGA.
"At that time, the practical side of me didn't yet claim my talents. I was lying to myself about what I wanted to do," Mr. Roberson said. "But I'm glad I got my education in something different. It made me a more well-rounded person."
After UGA, Mr. Roberson received a scholarship to Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York City.
"He told me, ėMama, I know y'all didn't send me to school to be a dancer, but I've got this opportunity'," his mother, Ethel Roberson said. "I told him just to go, and respect himself, that respect is earned by the way you live. ... It was a struggle for him...but he's persevered and he made it."
While dancing in 1992, Mr. Roberson said he realized "I wanted to last a long time in this industry ... but I knew I wouldn't last longer if I was dancing only. ... I wanted to be more creative, to be more hands-on in my career ... so I decided to start choreographing."
In his early choreographing days, Mr. Roberson said he did shows for no pay, but for "car fare only, mostly just for the experience. It was not an easy transition, but I had the faith that it was the right one for me."
Mr. Roberson's big break came when John Leguizamo hired him for an HBO special, giving him his first "big exposure." Since then, Mr. Roberson has won a 2004 Tony Award for choreographing Avenue Q.
Mr. Roberson's most recent accomplishment All Shook Up, a comedy musical featuring songs by Elvis Presley, opened at Broadway's Palace Theater on March 24. His family went to New York in April to watch the show with him.
"While we were there, I've never been thanked so much for birthing a child. Everybody told me thank you for giving them Ken. I just felt so good. ... I'm most proud of how he conducts himself - he doesn't smoke, do drugs, or liquor. ... I just thank God for him every day," his mother said.
In June, Mr. Roberson will travel to California, where his show Purlie will begin at the Pasadena Playhouse. Then he will go on to Las Vegas in August, for the Wynn Vegas Hotel showing of his Avenue Q.
Although Mr. Roberson appears to be at the top of his career, he's still dreaming up more pursuits. Mr. Roberson said he "likes to study always," and he's very interested in history.
"If there's a way to integrate history into theater, and teach people about our country, well, I would feel good about doing something like that," he said. "But not before next year. I'm booked up through April."