Get Cultured — July 14, 2017 at 12:20 pm

DIRECTING THEATER: Female is the Future – Meet Rachel Stevens

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We are in the middle of summer here in New York City, which means theater festivals have taken over the city and talent is blossoming on every corner as we speak. In the years since I started working in the theater industry, I have seen its fair share of ups and downs and let me tell you, we are on a very big up at the moment. Strong playwrights are putting out new work everyday, and with a lot of theaters working on diversifying, more are being discovered each day. With new perspectives going up on stage and new styles meshing, we shouldn’t forget one of the main people to work on this production and make the magic happen. Of course I’m talking about the grandmaster themselves: THE DIRECTOR!

And while there’s a vast number of male directors out there doing great work, I’ve noticed that most of my favorite works in the past few years have been directed by women. Then I noticed that the majority of the plays that have become critical darlings have also been directed by women. For an industry so set in traditionalist ideas and that sadly still have a patriarchal stench when it comes to playwrights, the women have staked their claims in the captain’s chair and made the future of directing undeniably theirs!

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Rachel Stevens is the captain at the helm of “Pedro Pan: The Musical” reading at NYMF this year. From assistant directing Broadway shows to developing hot new musicals ready for the big stage, Rachel is sketching her name on the director’s chair and becoming a force to reckon with. Read her words, check her work, and meet one of the women changing the game,

  • Of all the things in this industry, why directing? And do you dabble in other aspects of it?
    • I actually went to school for musical theater in my undergrad. I got my BFA from Point Park University. I knew pretty quickly as I was in school that I wanted to be a director. I often would find myself looking at the big picture on stage. I wanted to think about the full world of the play and found such joy in talking to designers. When I was in school, I witnessed how difficult it was for my female peers to feel comfortable in their own skin in an audition setting, and it became very clear to me that my job was to create a room where women, and frankly everyone, feel like who they are is enough. That’s a huge part of my process. I still love acting and do act on occasion. It’s how I grew up and what I’ve done since I was a kid- but I’m most fulfilled when I’m directing.  
  • How long have you been part of the NYC theater scene and how do you feel about it?
    • I’ve been in ‘the scene’ so to speak since 2014 when I graduated from grad school. I went right into working with Rachel Chavkin at Lincoln Center on Dave Malloy’s Preludes and then to Bandstand at Paper Mill Playhouse, so I was exposed to some great mentorship very early in my career. Since then, I’ve been building my own work in and out of New York and just finished assistant directing Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet. I’ve been fortunate enough to work regionally, in the downtown scene and on Broadway. I’ve learned a ton about all facets of the New York theater community and I frankly love it all. Commercial theater and theater for non-profit has different facets of course, but ultimately I’m lucky that every experience I’ve had has had the same objectives at hand- tell good stories.
  • As a woman in a position of power, have you ever dealt directly with discrimination from those you worked with? And does it discourage or fuel your drive?
    • Of course I’ve felt discriminated against, but never to the point where I’ve felt angry or discouraged. I do find that I have to assert my smarts and sensibilities MUCH more acutely right off the bat, but once I’ve established a culture, I feel pretty comfortable. I’ve come up against folks making judgments based on my age, my size, my voice and my femininity. But I have always felt fueled by my passion to create a nurturing, warm environment. You don’t need to be hard to be a leader. You don’t need to masculinize your work to be a leader. I will never go toe to toe with someone in an aggressive or hard way because it’s not who I am. My strength is my vulnerability and I don’t think that’s exclusive to a female sensibility, although we certainly face the obstacle more often of defending it.
  • You had the opportunity to assistant direct on the Broadway production of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” and that seems like an incredible experience. Could you tell us about it? How did you feel seeing your work on a big stage?
    • Working on Comet was incredible. Rachel Chavkin is a dream mentor. Watching the show grow taught me so much about scale in my own work. I’ll take that with me always. The entire team exemplifies what can happen when creative, thoughtful and kind artists come together to create change. I’m very proud of that experience.  
  • Besides the obvious, what’s the main difference between a Broadway production and an Off-Broadway (Off-Off, too)? How’s the dynamic and how much freedom do you have?
    • The main difference is money. Like I said, my Broadway experience was just as focused on the artistry and story telling as any Off Broadway or non-profit piece. We just had more money, so we had to be careful and strategic about how it’s spent. Otherwise, we’re all just storytellers.  
  • Tell us about Pedro Pan. What about this project drew you to it?
    • I was immediately drawn to this story as a historic piece serving a very specific community- but also a piece that is incredibly of moment in our current political and social climate. It’s told through the lens of a child ,which is the purest lens to see the world and the writing team is just a dream to work with.  I’m so honored to be a part of this piece and on this team.
  • What are your aspirations and goals for later in your career?
    • Ultimately, I want to change my little corner of the world with my work. I want to foster stories that insight change and I want to make a living doing it. I am someone that really values a strong balance between making stories and living your own. Having a family, teaching and directing full time, that’s the dream.  
  • What are you working on after Pedro Pan?
    • I’m directing a Tom Stoppard piece, “The Hard Problem” with Quantum Theater in Pittsburgh. I’m thrilled to get into the world of Stoppard in September.  
  • Sadly, today there’s this section of people that believe in a patriarchy. What kind of advice would you give those women thinking of directing but feel discouraged because of the idea that it’s a man’s world?
    • Just don’t be discouraged! Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has a place to tell it. Vulnerability, inclusiveness and building a culture of strength through warmth and collaboration is what I cling to. I don’t think of myself as a female director. I think of myself as a person with a brain and a heart that wants to build work. I’ve never thought of myself as anything else. Being a leader is not exclusive to male or female and you have to find your people to do it well. If we walk through the world on the defensive about who we are we won’t succeed. Just direct plays, wear a skirt doing it…or don’t. Who cares! I don’t apologize for anything I am. I happen to be a pretty feminine person….and I’m proud of that, it’s my lens on the world. But at the end of the day a good leader is a good leader. That’s it.
  • Favorite work and most inspiring figure?
    • Oh wow! Favorite work? Yikes- that’s hard. My favorite work is Tony Kushner’s Caroline or Change. It always makes me cry and continues to challenge me every time I revisit it. Most inspiring figure? How about figures….I just worked with a  group of teachers during a residency I did in the Bronx….they changed my life- changing one life at a time with kids who really need mentoring and support. Teachers- I’m most inspired by really good teachers.

Go see “Pedro Pan” at the New York Music Festival and experience Rachel’s work first hand.

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