I want to challenge myself in an environment where I feel free to experiment with design and that is kind of my goal this summer…
– Rachel Stevens
We were able to sit down with the director of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” Rachel Stevens, who shared her thoughts and vision on the upcoming production and the creative process taken to bring this show to the Upper Darby Summer Stage stage!
Ryan Heidig/Lauren Stevenson Yacina: What is your insight/vision for the show?
Rachel Stevens: We are actually doing something different with it! So the way the original book is written, there is this narrator. It’s not necessarily Tom, it’s not necessarily Huck, it’s basically the voice of Mark Twain talking about these characters. What we did with it is that one, to give kids more parts and two, to make the story telling a little more interesting, we split the narrators into four and they are gypsies that come to town to tell the story of Tom Sawyer. So, everything is coming out of these boxes, all the props come out on stage, all the costumes come out on stage, so it’s a homegrown story-telling thing that is going on. So that is why it is very intricate that way because to get a prop it is has to be in the right place to get it and get it to the right person, and move things around!
Right! You’re a perfectionist, so you like to make your life a little bit more complicated! (laughs).
Yeah, I do! Well and I also, this has nothing to do with the kids…but I wanted to challenge myself because I am just coming from school, and design is a big part of my training. I want to challenge myself in an environment where I feel free to experiment with design and that is a goal this summer. Because I’ve never been comfortable with design like I am very comfortable with relationships between characters and that’s the work I am good at.
Tell us how you feel about working with the cast. Is this different from casts that you have worked in the past, this particular group?
Well this is an interesting group, because I have some very seasoned kids and then I have some very new kids, and this story is very difficult to tell. It’s a very mature, complex, intricate story and so the leaders in the cast, really shine. It’s exactly what you want in a children’s theater experience because the younger kids are rising to the occasion and the older kids are helping the younger kids, simply because of the vehicle itself, they have to. I’m really having to delve in and talk about the acting. But the thing that has been really nice is that they have risen to the occasion. It’s been really interesting and really cool to see that evolve with this cast…it’s been really neat.
So what makes you keep on coming back to Summer Stage? I mean you are moving on, you’re going to the Actor’s Studio, the MFA program at Pace University in New York City, and yet you’re still coming back again.
[Coming back here] justifies why I am doing what I am doing. I think it’s really helpful that I have my Hairspray [rehearsals] at night, and I have children’s theater in the day because at night Hairspray is like a semi-professional company, which is what I am working towards… During the day, this is what theater is about. It’s getting kids interested in telling a story and getting them excited about a new story by saying its not just a smile that works, you have to be thinking about something. I think there is always a part of me that loves teaching and that’s why I keep coming back. As much as I want to be a professional and have my two week rehearsal period and put up my show, and make a name for myself, I love teaching and I love watching kids learn.
It’s just the community [here], there was a day last week that I came in and for no good reason, I just saw the kids hanging out and I started crying. I just love seeing them together, I love seeing what this community does… I could easily not come back, I could have worked in New York this summer, I could have worked on Fringe or whatever. There are so many professional things I could do, but it wouldn’t feel as good.
So how many shows have you directed at Summer Stage now?
Well I started with Rising Stars, so I did Jungle Book, Dalmations, Honk, Cinderella, Secret Garden, and this is my sixth show! Children’s Theater it was Honk, Cinderella, Secret Garden, this is my fourth Children’s Theater show.
What are the kids learning and what are you learning from the kids?
I think the kids are learning that it feels good to really be thinking something on stage. Instead of [thinking] “I’m just going to smile and get through it,” they actually were acting, and I think that is really cool.
What I am learning is patience. One of the reasons I am in school is that I have very high expectations for myself and for my cast members, and I think that is one of the reasons why you know I stress myself out too much… One of the things I have learned is that as a leader, if they [cast members] see you stressed, then they don’t do their best. So, what I have to acknowledge is sometimes I forget they’re kids… and I think that’s to their credit because they work so hard that I forget!
It sounds like you’re really giving them an education.
I hope, I mean that’s my goal, that’s what I hope to do. You know, and it’s hard in this sort of a process because we have two weeks, and I have to put a show together that I care about that I think is solid and pretty and clean.