Rachel Rockwell’s Legacy Lives In The Actors She Influenced

By: Michael J. Roberts

Feature Photo: Rachel Rockwell in rehearsal for “Shakespeare in Love” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Photo by Joe Mazza)

Upon hearing the news last month of Rachel Rockwell’s untimely passing on May 28th, I was about to report what most other publications posted.  A fact formatted biography of what was arguably, Chicago most influential director/choreographer.  

Laura Rook & Christopher Allen/Short Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet Directed by Rachel Rockwell/Chicago Shakespeare Theater/Photo by: Michael Brosilow

Being a few weeks removed from the devastating news, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on Ms. Rockwell’s legacy through a few of actors she influenced and the shows she put her undeniable mark upon for which I was lucky enough to have a been let in to her magic

The first is Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s 2013 production of Short Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet starring Laura Rook and Christopher Allen.  I conducted an interview with the two leads and asked them to describe Ms. Rockwell’s approach as a director.  Their answer, summarizing of course, was Rachel’s uncanny ability to connect the story with the performer and how she was able to communicate her overall vision of the piece.

Spring ahead five years to this June, when I interviewed Chicago native and Broadway actor Johnny Rabe, whom he credits Ms. Rockwell as a person who shaped his successful acting career in productions such as Oliver! (Drury Lane) and The Music Man (Paramount Theatre).  Remarkably, when posed the same question about Rachel abilities as a director, young Mr. Rabe’s answer mirrored Mr. Allen’s and Ms. Rook’s so many years before.  That being her ability to connect and communicate with an actor.

It is in those innate skills of communication that separated Ms. Rockwell from most other directors.  Her vision of the truth of a story, whether Shakespearean or Lloyd Webber, was unique.  And her gift was the ability to share that vision with her actors who in turn gave that same vision to the audience.

In most of reviews of Ms. Rockwell’s work, I have always wondered what it must be like constantly looking at the world through her eyes.  Her productions gave us a glimpse into that colorful, jazzy sphere of life.  But it is in the actors, dancers, design crew and collaborators that Ms. Rockwell’s vision of truth of story will live on.

A public memorial for Ms. Rockwell has been scheduled for July 9th at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook.