From Actor to Director – Rachel Stevens, director of “Secret Garden, Spring”

“Most of the material for my portfolio when I applied to the Actors Studio is from Summer Stage. It’s been the breadth of my experience so far.  The concepts that I’ve had and the work I’ve done and just the sheer number of actors that I’ve worked with. It all made me stand out. My best learning experiences are from Summer Stage.”

– Rachel Stevens, Director – “The Secret Garden, Spring”

There is a good chance we may see Rachel Stevens on James Lipton’s program “Inside the Actors Studio.” At least in the next three years perhaps as a member of the audience, but with her drive and ambition, who knows? We may see her in the interviewee chair as she progresses through life.

After she wraps up her position as director of “The Secret Garden, Spring,” Rachel will begin a new three year journey at the Actors Studio in New York City where she’ll obtain a Master of Fine Arts in Directing.

“I plan to come back to Summer Stage during the summers as long as I can,” says Rachel. “I grew up here. I was in the shows. It does wake you up – to be with young people is really important.”

 

Rachel Stevens laughs with pianist Daniel Matrazzo while choreographer Joanne McBride looks on.

FROM ACTOR TO DIRECTOR
Rachel has played many roles on stage as an actor but she began to direct plays in high school, specifically “Into the Woods,” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” where she conceptualized the plant made out of dancers. It was obvious even back then – Rachel doesn’t settle for the ordinary when she directs.

“I always wanted to be a professional actress and I don’t plan on giving that up completely. But directing was always a part of who I am, and I think I was fighting it for awhile because I kept telling myself I’m supposed to be an actor,” says Rachel.

Rachel attended Point Park University where she majored in musical theater. After college she worked with Imagination Stage as an education apprentice. She moved on to become a freelance teaching artist, working with several different theater companies in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland.

“As an actress, I was always being told what I am not. As an actor, you have to get permission to tell the story, but as a director you get to give the permission to tell the story. There were days as an actress when I’d come home feeling defeated,” admits Rachel. “As a director, even when I had a bad day and something didn’t work, it always felt good. As a director, I was always able to find the joy in it.”

Although she is not a dancer, Rachel was always drawn to images on stage, how to create them and how to utilize them to tell the story. “As an actress, you look at your one role and where you fit in. You only get to focus on that solitary journey that your character takes,” says Rachel. “But when I was in a show, I would look at the whole picture and what it looks like and the whole world of the story and its themes. I found that I wanted to look at a whole world and that’s where my brain went to. I was drawn to the images on stage and how they tell the story.”

 

The creative team of "The Secret Garden" plan for rehearsal. Clockwise from top left: Ass't Stage Manager Mark Marano; Musical Director, Eric Thompson; Rehearsal Pianist, Dan Matarazzo; Rachel Stevens; Choreographer, Joanne McBride and Stage Manager Supervisor, Allie Steele takes notes.

COLLABORATION
Rachel loves the element of collaboration while directing. The individuals she is working with on the creative team of “Secret Garden” are people she hasn’t previously worked with. She finds it a challenge and a good experience working with new people. It follows the Summer Stage model – different people coming from many different places and working together to make a great end product.

And as Rachel has learned, Summer Stage provides a place for young artists to hone their craft. “Most of my material for my portfolio when I applied to the Actors Studio is from here. It’s been the breadth of my experience so far.  The concepts that I’ve had and the work I’ve done and just the sheer number of actors that I’ve worked with. It all made me stand out,” There’s no doubt about it says Rachel. “My best learning experiences are from Summer Stage.”

CHALLENGING BUT GRATIFYING
Rachel’s work with the cast has been intense work. She has the kids working hard, and they are enjoying the challenge.  She has invited the actors to be much more than bodies on the stage filling up space. Each has had homework to develop their characters and to develop their back stories. Everyone has a purpose. “They’re doing great work. I’m very proud of them.”

In the story, Indian spirits follow the character Mary on her journey from India to Yorkshire in northern England, and guide her to bring life back to a place that has been all but forgotten. Besides so many other things, the cast is learning and comprehending the sterile and stoic Victorian era movement and how it compares to the fluid and low-to-the ground movement of the Indian spirits.

The audience will walk away from “The Secret Garden” with a great message. “There’s so much magic in the story that comes from a heartfelt place.” Rachel adds, “There are a lot of great messages for the adults as well as the kids. The material is so good that I want to serve it really well.”

 

 

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