Gannon archivist in local films


When Gannon University Archivist Bob Dobiesz isn’t busy sorting through school records at the Knight Tower, he can often be found indulging in his passion for acting and filmmaking.
Dobiesz said he was always interested in theater, singing since grade school and participating in a number of plays and musicals throughout high school. He joked about one of the first major solos he had at Kleinhans Music Hall in his hometown of Buffalo, New York.
“The review said he had a great voice, but you couldn’t see him over the piano,” Dobiesz said. “That was my first taste of fame.”
During his college career at Gannon, Dobiesz said he took time off from the theater and didn’t participate in any productions as a student. It wasn’t until he began working at Gannon as a faculty member that he was encouraged to make his way back to the stage.
Dobiesz said that while dating a girl in the ‘80s, she encouraged him to audition for Gannon’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” with her and he was given the role of Annas.
“I got so nervous I couldn’t even sing the scales,” Dobiesz said. “I was the librarian, but nobody knew I could sing.”
Dobiesz eventually regained his confidence and went on to play several more roles in Gannon productions. Among these included some of his favorites roles, such as Erronious in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” where he played a blind man who runs around the hills of Rome seven times to banish an evil spirit from his home.
Later, during a period at Gannon under a new supervisor, faculty members were not allowed to participate in theater productions any longer. Dobiesz still kept himself busy, however, acting in plays and musicals around Erie, principally at the Lincoln Theater.
It wasn’t until running into former student Len Kabasinski at the local Cinemark Tinseltown that Dobiesz’s film career took off. Kabasinski, who had worked for Dobiesz at the Nash Library before graduating and going to stunt school, had recently moved back to Erie to pursue a career in physical therapy. After reconnecting at the movie theater, Kabasinski, who had already written and directed some films at that point, told Dobiesz that he had the perfect role for him in his next film.
While he always had an interest in movies and filmmaking, Dobiesz said he didn’t have any connections before speaking with Kabasinski that night. Soon after, Dobiesz was cast in his first film role.
In “Warriors of the Apocalypse,” Dobiesz played Winston, a powerful weaponeer.
“If you know me and my size, it was quite funny,” Dobiesz said. “It was a fun role.”
As the first time Dobiesz had acted in front of a camera rather than on a stage, he learned firsthand the major differences between theater and filmmaking.
“It was a little intimidating, you know, being in the spotlight,” said Dobiesz. “You screw up [in theater], you keep going, while in films you reshoot several times.”
It was also in his first movie that that Dobiesz began to gain a reputation for making a grand exit.
In “Warriors of the Apocalypse,” Dobiesz’ character Winston dies after another character throws a bomb in his lap, while his character in one of his next films, “Ninja: Prophecy of Death,” is sliced in half with a samurai sword.
Dobiesz said he does get the last laugh in a few of his roles, though. In “Wendigo: Bound by Blood,” Dobiesz played Stanley, a man who, at first, finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I get bullied by a bunch of thugs and get pushed down, which I really did fall so it was method acting, definitely,” Dobiesz said.
“I do my own stunts,” he added with a smile.
In the end, Stanley turns the tables on the bad guys and tazes them.
Kabasinksi said he hoped Dobiesz liked being involved in his projects as much as the rest of them enjoy having him on the sets.
“Obviously Bob does something right, or I wouldn’t keep calling him to do my pictures,” Kabasinski said. “Bob has a great attitude on set, other cast and crew members love him and he easily adjusts to our situations onset when we have sudden changes.”
Dobiesz also had the opportunity to play an extra in “The Dark Knight Rises,” taking a trip to Pittsburgh to endure a 12-hour shoot at Heinz Field in the middle of the summer. While he said he probably wouldn’t take a role as an unpaid extra again, he did say there were some positives to the experience. This included meeting one of the film’s stars, Tom Hardy, and seeing up close how a major motion picture was filmed.
“That was my only claim to Hollywood fame… so far,” Dobiesz said.
Dobiesz is currently preparing for his next role in the film “Blood Prism,” which begins shooting later this month. Even though these local films aren’t going to win any Academy Awards, Dobiesz said their sets and production can still teach you a lot about how movies are made.
“It’s amazing how people, just like you see on a [Hollywood] movie set, really have a lot of fun, but when the cameras start rolling, everyone hops-to and really gets into character,” Dobiesz said. “These may be local movies, but they’re probably microcosms of what a movie set really would be like.”
Dobiesz said that although he’s not going to be making a career out of it, he doesn’t see himself retiring from his hobby of acting in local films anytime soon.
“I guess this is my small contribution to something I enjoy, and if someone enjoys seeing me in it, that would be great, too,” Dobiesz said. “This was always a dream, so maybe I’m achieving a small part of a dream.”

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