Meet the Director! Rachel Walzer
We've interviewed the creative team so you can get to know them! Meet Rachel, the"creative mastermind" behind this unique production.
You’re familiar to most of the Tokyo theatre community, but please remind us when you came to Japan and where you lived before.
Before moving to Japan (more than 2 decades ago) I lived in Jerusalem, Israel. My American parents emigrated there from the US when I was very small and I was raised bi-cultural and bi-lingual.
When did you first become interested in theatre?
I always loved using my imagination, and as a child I saw characters and storylines in everything around me; each cornflake in my bowl had a story, each crayon had a name and personality. My father noticed me creating plays out of his chess pieces, and so when a Children’s Theater Company came to town, he got us both tickets. I was mesmerized watching the actors draw a door on a huge sheet of paper and then walk right through it! I remember my dad asking if we could visit backstage, and the stage manager gave us a tour. It was exciting, mysterious, enchanting. I saw the props, the glowing “secret” lights for the actors and got a whiff of that backstage smell! I was hooked.
What formal training did you have? And how else did you learn your craft?
In high school I selected Theater as one of my elective matriculation exams, and I studied it academically as well as practically.
After high-school (and after 2 years of compulsory military service) I was accepted into the only full time drama school that existed in Israel in the 1980s. It was a 3-year course, which I quit after 1 miserable year. I hated it. Our directors and school staff referred to the institute as “a school for stars”. They encouraged the students to be competitive and cut-throat. It was then that I realized that while I loved the art of the theater, I was not comfortable with the industry of it. I was drawn to the humanity found in theater; the vehicle to discover and express empathy, and the invitation to study and deliver people’s stories in original ways, be it with humor, sorrow, rage, facts or questions.
I chose to leave the “drama” of that drama school, and I entered university, where I majored in Theater and Education. I wrote my MA thesis on using drama as an educational tool for teaching intercultural communication, language, history and behavioral sciences.
I went on to study and develop my craft through co-founding an educational theater company, writing a university curriculum and using drama to teach language, culture and behavioral sciences. I’ve continued taking acting classes through my adult life, have performed in and directed numerous plays and have also worked on-camera, alongside a career in voice-acting.
Which actors (or other influential figures) inspired you to pursue the theater?
My father, an architect, who was both practical and a romantic, had a powerful influence on me. His enthusiastic and unique character encouraged me to grab opportunities and to dare to take the less “safe” route. I was taught to think things through and then make them happen. Never did I have to hear the old “Don't go into the arts…you’ll never make a living”, which is what so many people hear from concerned parents. My dad showed me that loving what you do gives you strength and joy—and that is the meaning of success.
If you weren’t involved in theater, what job would you like?
I’d be a psychologist, social worker, guide dog trainer or a public speaking coach. I might have even combined all 4 into one career!
What do you to ‘get away from it all’? Hobbies? Distractions? Guilty pleasures?!
Ummm. Theater. (Other pleasures that I wish I enjoyed more often; the ocean at night, dogs so big you can lean on them, and dark chocolate. Ok. That 3rd one is a lie. I don’t wish I’d enjoy it more often. I regularly eat chocolate. Too often.)
How did you first get involved with Disturbance?
I was referred to the book. In spite of the painful subject matter it was beautiful. Ironically easy reading. And I instantly saw images through the poems. Then I heard Mark’s music. And it all came alive in my mind.
You’re not only directing Disturbance but you’re also ‘adapting it for stage’. Have you ever done something like that before?
Yes, I’ve adapted various works that were not originally created for the stage, including historical documents, newspaper articles, interviews, paintings and sculptures. It’s a fun challenge to express a piece in another mode.
Please talk us through the process of adapting a book of poetry for the stage. What are some of the challenges? And opportunities?
The challenge: Poetry is generally intended to move from the page directly into our imaginations. The poet does not have staging in mind as they write. This is a theatrical challenge. I feel my job is to present a moving experience which is not solely dependent on words. Sometimes this means amplifying the message or characters with action or music while playing down the importance or the reliance on words. It might even mean omitting words or repeating, adding voices, supplementing and using motifs from other scenes.
The opportunity: It’s exciting to be breaking new ground. There is joy in conveying my interpretation in an original way. I am grateful for the liberty afforded by the poet.
That said, I’m aware that adaptation is not for everyone. Some poets as well as audiences members are “purists”, but I believe our original approach to Disturbance provides another avenue for the poetry to find audiences. And hey, we might find people, who generally don't pick up a book of poetry for their reading pleasure, gravitating toward the book after experiencing our show.
What about your role as director of Disturbance? Anything unique or unusual?
We began with a book a poems. No play script. I’ve been directing the show as I’m writing it. The cast did not start off by receiving a script to prepare in advance for rehearsals, other than a Disturbance poem that is the core of every scene.
The process: I choose a poem. I work on it with the actors and then I derive a scene from the explorations and discoveries at rehearsals. We experiment with a scene a number of times before I write it into the script. Consequently, this production has been growing through work-shopping each scene with the cast members. The cast and production team have had to be flexible, since I’ve sometimes changed the direction of a scene after several rehearsals. That is the nature of a work that evolves organically. We must be prepared to be fluid and change course if that’s where the scene naturally takes us.
Some would say the subject matter of Disturbance is ‘dark’. Are you comfortable with that description? How would you describe it?
It's dark, yes. But it’s a familiar darkness. The darkness that exists in all societies and to some extent in all individuals.
And I believe it’s good to face darkness; an opportunity to face fear, take action and overcome difficulties.
Is there any specific reaction you’d like to evoke in your audience?
I would like people watching the show to become engrossed with what they are seeing and hearing. I’d like them to leave the theater feeling that something has changed in them. Perhaps they learned something new. Or maybe a melody from the show plays in their head for a while. Or an unfamiliar emotion is evoked. Or it could be a realization about something that exists in their own life or the life of a friend. Someone might discover there is an opportunity to offer help to others. Or…that they themselves can seek help from others.
You’ve also adapted Disturbance as a musical work. What role does music play in the production?
Music offers its own interpretation and has a significant effect on our emotions. I also use it as a vehicle to progress the scene. And most wonderful of all, unlike a scene that is watched on stage once and then just remains in our memory, music is something people can take home from the theater and keep forever.
What are your aspirations for Disturbance in the longer term?
My current focus is on a delivering a moving premiere, but I’m excited knowing that this is just the start. The promise of learning further from our first run and developing Disturbance to reach more audiences in the future is thrilling. I’m deeply grateful to all who have been a part of making this happen. Not least, to our audiences who are joining us in this process.
Thanks for your time today. And good luck for the premiere!
Thank you for your interest in our show! The subject matter is tough, but important and we hope you’ll be moved and even changed by our work.