Taking New "Steps"
How a documentary film led to surprising new twists in actor-choreographer Rachelle Rak's career
By MARK BLANKENSHIP
If you've seen the documentary "Every Little Step," which follows a group of actors auditioning for the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line, then you probably remember Rachelle Rak. She's the one who gives the killer audition for Sheila, wowing the producers with her take on the sassy character. Or at least, she wows them at first. Throughout the film, Rak endures countless callbacks, and in one memorable scene, she's even asked to recreate a moment from an audition she gave almost a year before. Ultimately, despite all the good omens and positive feedback, she doesn't get the part.
But that missed opportunity isn't what makes Rak, currently starring in the Off Broadway musical Sessions, so memorable on screen. It's the way she handles herself. On the day of her final audition, we see her tell the casting director that she's "a big girl," that she can handle the hearing whatever news he's got, and that after eight months of waiting, she wants to know her fate right away. She comes across as a bold, levelheaded woman who is ready to move on with her life.
Small wonder, then, that her appearance in "Every Little Step" has done so much for her. Thanks to the film, she was interviewed by The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, and she still receives e-mails from fellow actors who respond to her perseverance and frankness.
"Not getting a show has never been such a positive in my life," she says.
Rak feels her auditions for A Chorus Line helped her get a new perspective on her career. "At the time, I thought, 'Oh my God, this is my life-changing part. It's meant to be,'" she says. "And then, wah-wah-wah. But now I've started to realize that I've always forgotten the moment I was living in. I was always thinking, 'What's the next thing, what's the next thing?' I've realized that my life can be more than always chasing the next Broadway show."
In other words, Rak has expanded her concept of what she wants to achieve. Instead of limiting herself to one, narrow goal---sacrificing everything else to get her next Broadway gig---she has decided to say yes to as many opportunities as possible. (It should be noted, though, that she has six Broadway credits on her resume, including Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Fosse.)
Recently, Rak signed on for an understudy gig in Sessions, which opened at the Alqonquin Theater in January. For some actors with Rak's experience, understudying would seem like a waste of time. "But once I got my ego out of the way, and cleaned all that stuff out of my head, I realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do. I knew I would definitely get to go on, and I knew I'd get to work with interesting material," she says.
And so Rak understudied the role of Leila, a troubled woman who has a love affair with her therapist. Soon enough, she was given the role outright. Her work on Sessions also garnered an invitation to choreograph and co-star in An Evening at the Carlyle, a musical revue also playing at the Algonquin.
Meanwhile, Rak recently started teaching with Rosie's Broadway Kids, an arts education organization (co-founded by Rosie O'Donnell) that sends teaching artists to work with New York public school students. Through that program, she met composer Steven Jamail, who invited her to choreograph his musical Vote!, a comedy about a high school student council election. The show opens at the NYC Fringe Festival on August 14, and in a delicious twist, it co-stars Deidre Goodwin, the actress who beat Rak for the part of Sheila in the revival of A Chorus Line. Rak says, "I love that. I love working with Diedre, because she's so fantastic and talented."
Of course, Rak wouldn't be doing any of these things if she hadn't decided to expand her horizons. "It's taken me a lot of years to realize that I'm so much more than 'What show am in?'" she says. "Who knew that at thirty-eight, I was going to learn so much?"
Author: Mark Blankenship
Mark Blankenship has written for The New York Times, Variety, The Village Voice, and many others. He also edits The Critical Condition, an award-winning pop-culture criticism blog. (www.thecriticalcondition.com)