Stepping into History: Aaron Robuck on playing Leo Frank

Set against the backdrop of early 20th century Atlanta, Georgia, Parade offers a window into a tumultuous and dark chapter of American history.

In 1913, Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager from Brooklyn, found himself thrust into the spotlight when he was accused of the murder of thirteen year old Mary Phagan, a young worker in his employ. The subsequent trial captivated the nation, laying bare the deep-seated racist and antisemitic prejudices and tensions of the time.

Parade weaves a narrative that is as haunting as it is poignant, offering a timely reminder of the enduring importance of seeking justice, confronting prejudice, and honouring the voices of those marginalised by society. With its exploration of the intersection of race, religion, and power, the hauntingly beautiful musical invites audiences to confront uncomfortable truths and engage in critical dialogue, making it not just a piece of historical theatre, but a vital reflection of our shared humanity.

Following a successful run in Melbourne, Soundworks Productions are proud to extend the journey of Parade to Sydney’s Seymour Centre from May 9th. Reprising his role as Leo Frank is Aaron Robuck.

Aaron Robuck

Aaron is a Sydney-based Performer, Producer, Educator and Creative who works across Theatre, Cabaret, Dance, Jewish Music and Event Management. An alumni lecturer from The Australian Institute of Music, he now works as Creative Director for international events company Viral Ventures, most recently writing, producing and performing in their Maiden Mainstage Immersive Production of The Great Gatsby which toured sold-out seasons in 2022 in Sydney and Brisbane. Most recently, he was seen as Leo Frank in Chapel Off Chapel’s Production of Parade in Melbourne, and will reprising his role at The Seymour Centre in May 2024. He is also the Cantorial Soloist for North Shore Temple Emanuel.

Other Musical Theatre Performance Credits include 35mm (Little Triangle), La Luna (dir. Joanna Weinberg), Dear World (Hayes Theatre Co., dir. Nicholas Hammond), Rags (NIDA, dir. Tyran Parke), Bring It On (Sydney/Gold Coast Tour), The Original Grease (Squabbalogic, dir. Jay James Moody), Hidden Sydney: the Glittering Mile (Working Management/Live Ideas), Bare (Depot/New Theatre) and Three In the Bed (King/New Theatre/Album on iTunes).

Can you tell me a bit about your background as a performer?

Aaron: I’m a music theatre actor and creative, who has worked across theatre, cabaret, TV and film with a particular interest in blending my theatrical career with my experience in Jewish Music and Culture. I began singing in Synagogues and Choirs, and now work as a Cantor, alongside my stage career. I’m so inspired by the new path being created in the entertainment industry whereas artists are being embraced for their unique and complex experiences as people, and finding their space in art.

What drew you to the role of Leo?

Aaron: Well this is a great example for a role which allows me to bring my unique experience to it. The creative team has even allowed me to interpret some musical moments with a Jewish Liturgical musical sound imbued into it. This role just flows out of me – I understand him and have experience some of what he has. At the same time, he is a man with a lot of faults. I would certainly not call him the ‘hero’ of the story. The sense of good and evil is not clear cut in this. I’m a big debater when it comes to tricky conversations, leaving space for everyone’s points of view and clashes. Leo treads this line a lot of the time and it makes it fascinating to inhabit.

How did you prepare for such a complex and emotionally demanding character?

Aaron: Well, to begin with, the whole cast and crew are incredibly supportive and the rehearsal room has become such a safe space. There are some incredibly vulnerable moments in the piece, and it’s very important that everyone feels comfortable when diving into these moments. I try to not sit too deeply into the tragedy of the piece, and simply just let the events of the story happen to me. For me, it’s more about what happens after a performance – the all important ‘de-role’ process ensures that the emotional weight of Leo and his experience doesn’t carry over to Aaron after the curtain drops.

How did you approach balancing historical accuracy with artistic interpretation in your portrayal?

Aaron: I’ve done a crazy amount of research. I just love true stories, I wanted to get as much info as I could going into the process. I read this elaborate breakdown of the entire 2 year case called ‘The Dead Shall Rise’ which gave me some amazing context. But the way in which this particular script (not to mention some incredible music), and created with this particular cast, makes the historical context its own story. In my mind our production of ‘Parade’ is our own story, based on the history.

What aspects of Leo’s personality or journey do you find most compelling or challenging?

Aaron: As I mentioned, he’s no hero. He clashes with the community around him (one which he is the newcomer), but respect is a two way street. Both sides of this clash of cultures, coming from the aftermath of A Civil War, is just asking for conflict. What I find compelling is that all sides are at fault – and all sides (in 1913 and in every age) have the opportunity to extend an olive branch and start the healing. It makes you question your place in any conflict – no matter how ‘right’ you may be, everyone has the capacity for more understanding.

Parade deals with themes of justice, prejudice, and societal norms – how do you personally connect with these themes?

Aaron: We live in a beautifully multicultural world, full of space for different opinions and views. But there is also space for a lot of people to express prejudice towards each other. This piece offers a cautionary tale when this prejudice becomes an overwhelming norm in a society. I’ve been the victim of prejudice, even in the case of being part of this show, in fact. It’s important that moments in life keep bringing people together to listen, learn and think. Places like the theatre are a perfect place for this to happen!

What do you hope audiences will take away from Parade?

Aaron: This show should be a conversation starter. Between you and friends and family. Between you and yourself. It truly should make you think and consider. I would hope that audiences will feel challenged. That they go home and think: “Should I have applauded at the end of that song?”, “Should I have laughed at that joke?”. Wonderful questions to be left with.

Parade opens at the Seymour Centre, Sydney, from May 9th.

For tickets and more information, visit the Seymour Centre website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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