A relatively recent newcomer to the West Coast, Rachel spent a decade in New York City working as a dance artist. Originally from Ireland, she has taught and performed in the UK, US, India, Costa Rica, and Austria. Recent work in Sonoma County includes Dancing Lessons at Cinnabar, Barely A Person (a film exploring postpartum depression) for Heroines, Harlots and Harpies at Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, Fairy Worlds for Shakespeare in the Cannery, Equus, and A Little Night Music at 6th Street. She is the founder of the expandance technique, a somatic movement practice. Learn more about Rachel’s company at expandance.com
Q. It’s been more than 50 years since HAIR was first produced, and the US and the world have seen major cultural changes. How do you think this play stands up to the test of time? What aspects of it are still relevant and how?
- Much of it is still relevant, unfortunately. We’re still living in a white supremacist, capitalist culture, and there are still wars globally, so this show is important because it talks about these things and yet there’s also hope and humor there. This show reflects a time when many of these issues were coming to a greater level of consciousness in American society, and there is a resurgence of the same in the last few years. It’s interesting to see some of the ways we’ve evolved in our thinking since that time, and some of the ways we’re still struggling to.
Q. How has the Omicron surge affected your rehearsal process? What challenges have been presented and how did you manage them?
- Even with stringent Covid protocols in place, (including masks, twice or thrice weekly testing, sanitizing, distancing etc) during the first couple of weeks of rehearsal back in January, I don’t think I had more than half the cast at a time in rehearsals, and I really felt for the cast. It was also definitely a challenge choreographically, as so many of the dance numbers in this show require the whole cast. But the last few weeks things have been better *knock on wood!* It’s been helpful having a strong dance captain in Peri Zoe who I can trust to get people up to speed as needed. And I think we’re all just so happy to be back working again, and that gratitude carries us through the challenges.
Q. What are the strong suits of your actors in terms of choreography?
- Their willingness and work ethic. They’ve been so open at everything I’ve thrown at them, which has been great. Between them they bring some pretty diverse skills to the show, so that’s been fun to work with.
Q. What do you think are the aspects of the play that will most appeal to our audience?
- The music, the dancing, the passion, the risqué bits!
Q. How has your background in choreography prepared you for your work on this play?
- I’ve been choreographing for over two decades now, and for a lot of that, improvisation has been an important part of how I work; not only in the choreographic process as a tool for creation but also as an art form in itself, and as a tool within performance. One of the original tenets of my dance company, expandance, was to include moments of improv among set choreography in all our shows. And with a lot of musicals, there often isn’t the space for that – every beat has a set movement. Hair is special because it presents so many opportunities for the actors to improvise movement between the set stuff. And these parts get rehearsed as much as the set movement, to the point where it feels as organic as anything else. It gives the actors a bit more freedom to embody their characters within the structure of the dancing, and I think that reflects Hair’scall for freedom and connection.
Q. What has been the most enjoyable part of your experience rehearsing the play so far?
- It’s been an honor getting to know new, awesome people. This cast has a diverse spectrum of lived experience – from BIPOC to LGBTQI communities, from theater newbies to Equity actors, from classically trained singers to yoga practitioners to circus professionals – and it’s been incredible to meet all these folks, witness their magic, and learn from each other. Cast members have brought conversations regarding race, history, consent, communication, etc. to the table. As a queer immigrant mom, I feel grateful to connect and learn from everyone in different ways throughout this process. Also, getting to meet and work with Aja has been awesome, and I hope we get to collaborate again.
Q. What project have you either just done or going to do (or both) that you’d like our audience to know about?
- I’m working on codifying the expandance technique, which involves synthesizing 15 years of movement practice and somatic exercises into readable, shareable documentation. So that’s my main project at the moment, outside of teaching and parenting duties. I’m excited to get to know the theater community in the area better and potentially explore work with directors and theaters around the County.
For tickets and information, visit https://6thstreetplayhouse.com/show/hair/