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Theatre Collective Spotlight: Rachel De Fontes

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

Empower Her* Voice Theatre Collective introduces… ‘Spotlight: Female-Identifying and Non-Binary Voices in Theatre.’ This is a new series of interviews, released monthly, to broadcast the emerging and established voices of female-identifying and non-binary creatives within theatre.

Introducing Rachel De Fontes

Rachel De Fontes is an American actor, writer and director hailing from Orange County, California. She was telling stories from a young age - having signed herself up for her local community theatre at age 9, she's now spent 15 years in the world of theatre. She's worked with theatres and production companies in Orange County, New York City, Los Angeles, Dublin, London, and Au Brana. She graduated with a BFA in Theatre from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and a Masters in Acting from Drama Centre London. Also now an acting, voice and resilience coach at Awaken Agency, she is particularly invested in the growth of the movement for better mental health practices across the industry's training & professional sectors. Some of her other affiliations include: The William Esper Studio, The Lark Middle East/US Playwright Exchange, Crash Acting Studio, OBRA Theatre Co., and Helena Walsh Voice and Acting Studio.

What was your first experience watching theatre?

I saw Les Misérables at our local community theatre with my mom. The Jean Valjean dislocated his shoulder at the cart scene (early on in the musical) and so, in true ‘the show must go on’ spirit, the director had to step in to play the leading role, performing the rest of the show with the script in his hand/rolled up in his pocket, etc. It was so exciting to watch because everything from there on out was completely new and surprising to the actors on stage. They were forced to be completely present and open to reconfiguring what they had spent all those weeks rehearsing.

What was the first play to make you want to act?

It was a film actually -- Good Will Hunting. I had more access to films to begin with. But I think one of the earlier plays I’d read that reaffirmed that ‘want’ to act was either Romeo & Juliet or Pygmalion.

Why theatre for you? Why is it the right form for you?

Well, I’m interested in both theatre & film. I think ideally I could bounce back and forth between the two. They’ve both got different aspects which excite me, creatively. But specifically with theatre, I enjoy being able to experience the full arc of a character, to be able to live their full story, all at once. And rehearsing with an ensemble is such a joy. I tend to prefer rehearsals to performances actually. But whether a rehearsal or a performance, there’s a lot at stake -- it’s live, living and breathing right here and right now in the flesh.

What do you look for when choosing plays to take on?

I look for depth of character as well as stories I don’t feel have necessarily been told before. Or, if it’s a story that certainly has been told before (like Shakespeare or Chekhov), one that I feel could speak to audiences now in meaningful ways.

Which playwrights/ directors/ actors have had the biggest impact on you?

I’m particularly interested at the moment with, for playwrights: Mike Bartlett, Duncan Macmillan and Martin McDonagh. For directors: Mike Leigh, Marianne Elliot and Greta Gerwig. And for actors: David Tennant, Helen McCrory, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Josh O'Connor, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Andrew Scott.

How has the theatre industry changed over your time working?

It’s opening up. I think theatre-makers and audiences are more and more willing to engage in theatre that isn’t as conventional or traditional, which is exciting. We seem to be opening up to new possibilities -- for instance, allowing for and supporting stories that haven’t been told by people who haven’t had the opportunities to tell them.

What's the hardest play/extract you've ever performed and why?

Hamlet’s second soliloquy because it broke my heart every time. He’s in despair and suicidal, a soul in pieces. It was also the most rewarding speech I may have ever worked on.

Are there ideas and themes that you keep coming back to?

Miscommunication and secrets.

Are there characters that you keep coming back to?

Hamlet and Richard III. I love them, I love them, I love them.

What advice would you give to a woman wanting to work in theatre, but without obvious access streams?

As a woman, you have such a strong community. Reach out to female actors, writers, directors you admire and start the conversation. And, gender aside, most artists do genuinely want to support and encourage each other. So, look to your local theatres and see who’s working or look up the graduating classes at the Acting, Writing & Directing programs and get in touch. And breathe. You’ll be okay. Just take one step after another. There is no single ‘right’ way to pave this path. So enjoy the freedom that comes with finding your way!

What are your top tips for emerging female-identifying actors who have not had formal training?

Well, training never really starts or ends at ‘formal training.’ I know for myself I was practicing vocal exercises and rehearsing plays alone in my bedroom before I’d ever even seen an acting class. And now that we’ve got access to so many resources online, you can practically guide yourself through your own training.

And, actors who have trained formally aren’t finished products by any means. We’re constantly learning new things from experience and sharpening our skills with regular practice. So please don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get to a stage where you’re a finished product, a ‘perfect’ actor -- there’s no such thing! To be a present actor, the best rehearsal is to be present in your daily life.

If you could go back to the beginning of your interest in theatre, what would you tell yourself?

What others think about you is not your problem. Don’t waste another moment comparing yourself or judging your choices before you even have the chance to make them. Be bold. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.

What are you working on next?

A friend of mine and I are developing a script for a two hander short film we’re going to be filming with a production company in the coming months. We’re co-writing as well as co-starring in it. Which has been quite fun because it’s gifted us the opportunity throughout the writing process to simultaneously discover as actors the individual characters and their dynamic together. /we have the writers’ permission to adjust lines as needed. :)

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