Graduate thrives on performing, building art with others (and sword fights)
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement.
Rachelle Dart has been a theater artist her entire life.
“Ever since I was little, I was a performer,” said Dart, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in theater. “I would put on living room performances for my family.”
She participated in theater all throughout middle school and high school. Later she co-founded Small Dance Collective, where she and her artistic partner, Anya Hernandez, focus on creating theater based in community engagement. She also managed her own improv company, called The Penguin Players, which provides affordable, quality entertainment to people of all ages.
For the last five years, Dart has trained in stage combat. She is a freelance fight choreographer in Phoenix and an advanced actor combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors. She has been teaching theater in some way since high school, including teaching stage combat workshops to over 500 sixth- through 12th-grade students this semester. And she has worked professionally as an actor with Southwest Shakespeare Company.
“It’s hard to imagine not doing some kind of performing,” said Dart, who transferred to ASU from Paradise Valley Community College. “I thrive in collaboration — the building of art with other people — so it made sense to continue to develop my craft. I wanted to grow as an artist so that I could be more honest with the characters I play.”
One character she had the chance to play while developing her craft in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts has been with her since she was young. Last spring, Dart was cast as Captain John Wesley Powell in “Men on Boats,” a play that tells the story of an 1869 expedition to map the Colorado River; all the cisgenderCisgender denotes a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with his or her birth sex. white male characters are played by actors who are not cisgender white males.
“I had studied Powell in high school, and he was a very interesting character in history,” Dart said. “I was always excited by the fact he was an amputee. So, getting to play this real person who shared a similar difference was quite wonderful.”
Dart, who lost her left hand in a boating accident when she was 3 years old, related to Powell. She also loved that “Men on Boats” gave her an opportunity for collaboration and for building relationships with other artists.
“‘Men on Boats’ was one of the most exciting and fun theater experiences to date,” Dart said. “It was an absolute honor to be part of the process. I am still blessed by the women who were in the cast and the relationships we built.”
Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
Answer: The faculty in the theater program continue to surprise me and change my perspective. They are also incredibly generous and supportive educators, which is something to aspire to as a young teaching artist. If I had to pinpoint one thing, Bonnie Eckard teaches viewpoints and she begins every class with a form of meditation. She’ll guide the class in relaxing and then say, “Remember, you can always come back to this!” She trains her students not only as theater artists, but how to be whole people. I hope to be a teacher like that. She has also redefined success for me. She says that success is not what you accomplish but how well you practice. In this way, every experience in life, even the not very pretty or presentable struggles, are valid and even essential in success.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: Jason Davids Scott came and adjudicated a show I was in at Paradise Valley Community College for Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. He talked to me about the program, and it sounded exciting! It was also very affordable with scholarships and easy to transfer all of my community college credits.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Breathe, be disciplined and rest in your worthiness. Also, go to office hours and take advantage of the ability to reserve rehearsal and performance space.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: There are a couple. FAC 231 is the movement studio rehearsal space in the Nelson Fine Arts Center. It is where I rehearsed for many shows and projects and had countless late-night post-rehearsal discussions. The other space is the amphitheater just outside the FAC. My friends and I choreographed and practiced many sword fights in that space.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: After graduation, I will be attending the Fitzmaurice Voicework Teacher Training Program in Los Angeles and will be apprenticing with storyteller Liz Weir at her Ballyeamon Barn in Ireland.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I think it would be exciting to put the money into a trust, so that the money would grow. At the same time, it would also be going out in micro grants to Arizona artists. The grants would cover such things as training programs, rehearsal/performance space, realizing projects, emergency funds, etc. Even without going into a trust and with $1,000 to $5,000 grants, that would help over 8,000 artists. It might be tackling a smaller problem, but imagine the kind of creativity and art that could be cultivated in our community.