By Byrne Harrison
Rachel Klein is a director, choreographer, producer, and costume/production designer. Miss Klein established the RKP Theater Ensemble in 2007 with her adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost and since has worked with RKP and other collaborators (including Junta Juleil Theatricals, the Jackie Factory, Disgraced Productions, HQ Rep, the House of Yes, Bluebox Productions, and Razors Edge Productions) to build and develop the full length productions The Tragedy of Maria Macabre, Metro, All Kinds of Shifty Villains, Sir Sheever, Aenigma, Go-Go Killers!, Hound, Princes of Darkness, Circus of Circus, and Lizardman, a Musical. Shorter works and dance pieces include: Our Prison, La Enferma, Medusa, Sisters of the Moon, Sweeter Than Wine, Killer Workout, Beat Girl, The Fairy Tail Chain, Act Up! Ballet, and Noche de las Munecas. The RKP Theater Ensemble’s choreographic work has been presented all over the city at several venues, festivals, art galleries, and nightlife events including the Kitchen, Dixon Place, Theater for the New City, DUMBO Dance Festival, Night of 1000 Stevies, the Highline Ballroom, La MaMa Moves! at La MaMa E.T.C. in 2009 and 2010, Banzai! at the Red Lotus Room, legendary rock ‘n roll club Don Hill's, the Hiro Ballroom, the Bushwick Site Fest, Bushwick Open Studios Festival, the World Famous Bob’s Give Thanks!, Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, the House of Yes, HOWL Festival, and Off-Broadway at the Bleecker Street Theater. Miss Klein was a 2010 recipient of the Emerging Artists’ Residency Grant from the Field in Association with the Tides Foundation and was nominated for two 2011 New York Innovative Theatre Awards for Outstanding Director and Outstanding Choreography/Movement for The House of Yes’ Circus of Circus. She currently curates a monthly performance art review at Bowery Poetry Club, will be working on a new dance commission from Dixon Place in 2012, and is set to make her Off-Broadway directorial debut with Gay Bride of Frankenstein this coming season. Most recently she directed a production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream as part of the Second Annual New Brunswick Theater Festival.
I spoke with Rachel about her current project The Tragedy of Maria Macabre, currently in production at The Wild Project.
First, welcome back. It's exciting to see The Tragedy of Maria Macabre back onstage. Was it a difficult road from Dixon Place to the Wild Project?
Thanks so much, Byrne! The ensemble and I are thrilled to have a longer run of this piece. We have been developing it for the past 2 years, and excerpts of Macabre have seen many stages—from The Kitchen to the nightlife art event Banzai, from La MaMa to the LES Festival at Theater for the New City, and from 3rd Ward in Bushwick to Bowery Poetry Club. It has certainly been a long ride! As luck would have it, Ellie Covan from Dixon Place saw an excerpt and invited us to present at Dixon Place, which was exhilarating. We had such a generous audience, and from that point forward the decision to extend the production was solidified.
We are very grateful to the Wild Project for being so supportive in helping us to fully realize this piece.
Maria Macabre seems perfectly suited for this time of year as we close in on Dia de los Muertos. I assume the timing wasn't accidental?
Not accidental at all. This time of year people are certainly up for watching dancing skeletons. However, our audience in general is up for dancing skeletons year round!
What inspired you to create this piece? And what were your main influences when choreographing it?
We were fortunate enough to receive a rehearsal space grant from the Field in January of 2010. We had no idea what were going to build, but we did know that it was going to be on the darker side. I had a collection of music that I found inspiring, and first piece that we began to build evolved into what is now the opening number for the whole show.
The largest influence was definitely silent film—from Lon Chaney’s performances in "Laugh Clown Laugh" and "The Unknown" to Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss’ work in "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." It’s very important to me that everything be larger than life and overtly theatrical, something which they really knew how to do in the silent film era!
Tell me a little about your performers.
They are some of the best people on this planet. I have an eclectic ensemble comprised of actors, dancers, and circus performers, and they meld together magically.
The piece was originated by Abigail Hawk, Elizabeth Stewart, Michael Porsche, Danielle Marie Fusco, Preston Burger, Megan O’Connor, Eric Schmlenberger, Brian Rubiano, and Freddy Mancilla. Recently we have acquired the talents of Danny Mendoza, Ethan O’Hara, and Scooter Pie.
I was blown away by some of the photos from this production. Who designed your costumes and makeup?
Thank you so much for the compliment! I designed the costumes and wigs for Macabre and personally built about half of them. Many nights of 3:00AM hand-sewing and nearly hot-gluing my fingers together. Spray-painting props in the alley behind my apartment and running up and down six flights of stairs to check on them—yikes! Other members of the construction team include Megan O’Connor, Scooter Pie, Stacy Maillet, Kae Burke, Olivia Warner, and Make Fun Studios.
The make-up design was created by the fabulous Anita Rundles, our resident make-up artist, who has been with us from the very beginning (The Canterville Ghost in 2007!)
Who else is involved on the technical side of the show?
The sound was designed by myself and uber-gifted renaissance man Sean Gill, who also did the sound engineering and editing, as well as our graphic design. Sean’s aesthetic certainly upholds the unearthly, uncanny tone I was going for.
We were able to snag the ridiculously talented Ben Kato to do the lighting design, whose color palette adds so much flair to our black and white world.
The calligraphy on the narrative placards was created by the House of Yes’s Len Pak Kei-Mak, a multi-talented designer and visual artist.
The feather accessories on both the Queen of the Dead and the Ringmistress were built by burlesque chanteuse Ashley Monroe.
Tell me a little about your theatrical background.
I have roots in theater, ballet, and rock n’roll. These are all elements that I enjoy blending together because they all support one another—a great rock show is super dramatic in style (like Alice Cooper or David Bowie), a great ballet has theatrical narrative (like Swan Lake or The Nutcracker) and great theater really should combine the showmanship of a ballet and a rock show rolled up into one (with the added catharsis brought by the actors).
What is next for you?
I have several projects brewing. After first debuting Maria Macabre at Dixon Place this year, we have been granted a dance commission from Dixon Place to create a whole new work with a full run to debut next June. This piece will go into development next month and will involve aerialists and circus performers, and the premise will depict the horrors of sleep paralysis.
Another project on the horizon is an amazing rock musical, The Gay Bride of Frankenstein, that I will be directing, choreographing and costume designing, slated to open Off-Broadway in 2012.
If you could say anything to your potential audience, what would it be?
To expect to have a good time. The show has its dark moments, some more somber than others, but it is gelled together by tremendous bits of levity. The characters in the Land of the Dead reflect upon their experiences with life and death as a plot device to help Maria Macabre, our heroine, accept her own fate. Each of these moments is a window into that particular character’s world, and as we have been developing this show for so long, the performers really experience these moments of morbidity, even if there is a splash of glitter in the blood.
And a similar question, if you could offer any words of wisdom to someone who was thinking of following a similar career path, what would you say?
Maintain your creativity and never cave to anyone. If the idea exists in your imagination and in your soul, then you are obligated to put it into this world, and do so with full force—and if that means self-producing, which it often does, you will need every shred of your energy and patience you can possibly muster!
The Tragedy of Maria Macabre continues on the following dates:
Friday, Oct. 28th, @ 8pm
Saturday, Oct. 29th @ 8pm
Sunday, Oct. 30th @ 5pm
At the Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, Between Ave A and Ave B