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Conversation with a Top Chicago Director

Darcy Rose Coussens interviews Jeff Award winner Rachel Rockwell. logo

Rachel Rockwell (used with permission)

Hello readers! I can't believe the time has gone by so quickly - this will be my last contribution to TMU! I was trying to think of the perfect final article, and fortunately I had the opportunity to interview Rachel Rockwell, acclaimed director and choreographer. She was named Chicago's Best Director in Chicago Magazine's August 2010 issue and has received the Jeff Award for Best Director. Her thoughts reflect why I think Chicago may be where I'd like to start my own career soon (scary... but exciting!). Read on about how her career developed and why she works in Chicago!

DARCY ROSE COUSSENS: What brought you to Chicago?

RACHEL ROCKWELL: I went to the University of Evansville in Indiana, and you either went to New York or Chicago after graduating. I decided to give Chicago a shot - I liked that it had a really good balance of straight theater and musical theater, so I came and was really fortunate to get work right away. Although I have lived in New York and Los Angeles, I come back here. This is the place that speaks to me the most and where I like living the most. It's a great place to live and make art.

DRC: It's interesting, I keep hearing that what's important in choosing to live in Chicago is enjoying living here and that it's a good community of theater artists.

RR: Oh yeah, the community is unlike any other. I not only make art with these people, we raise our kids together. It's really been fun to watch my friends go from us all being in shows together to us being parents now. I think the artistic scene is getting better and stronger here. There's more and more work!

DRC: I've seen some of your work both as a director and a choreographer. Did you start out working more in one role, or have you always been interested in both?

RR: I got work as a choreographer first, but I think I've always been a director. I can't separate the way I look at a piece of work. It's always been through a director's eyes. My first professional opportunities were as a choreographer, but I directed my first Equity show when I was 22, which is kind of ridiculous. It was an accident! I filled in for somebody who dropped out, although I was already choreographing. It was a movement-based show, so it made sense to do that. So I think that was a natural part of my professional evolution. And I was really lucky to get opportunities.

DRC: When you went to school, were you focusing on acting or were you also focusing on directing there?

RR: I choreographed a ton of student things, and I did a bunch of directing projects in school, but we didn't have a directing major. We had a BFA, and I was a performer. So my emphasis was performing, but believe me, any opportunity I had to direct or choreograph anything, I took it!

DRC: That's actually one thing I love about Northwestern - student theater here is really great and there's just so much of it. I think what we're doing in class is so important, but we also get to try everything outside of classes.

RR: Yeah, that's critical. You need to experience every discipline - I think, anyway - if you're going to be a good director: to understand what you're asking of people, how to speak to people, to educate yourself in all design disciplines. I think it's really important to have a little bit of street cred and to know what you're talking about. Plus, it's fascinating to me. Part of the reason why I like being a director is because I like creating a complete world, and every bit of that is interesting to me.

DRC: What's happening for you now, and what's next?

RR: The Wizard of Oz at Drury Lane Oakbrook opens in about two weeks, and then Beauty and the Beast at Chicago Shakespeare. Then Xanadu, Annie, and then The Music Man. And that, I think, takes me through the end of this year.

I hope you guys check out some of those productions! Based on her past work, they are sure to be some of the best in Chicago theater this year. Thanks for reading along with me as I explored and talked with some of the coolest theaters and artists in the Windy City. Happy Spring!


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