Theater Professor’s Research Explores ‘Collective Creation’
Theater Professor’s Research Explores ‘Collective Creation’

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor

Rachel Anderson-Rabern, assistant professor of theater, once saw a small theater company perform a play entirely on rolling chairs.

The ensemble had no rehearsal space, so they practiced in the director’s apartment. The neighbor downstairs kept complaining about all those footsteps. So the actors brought over rolling chairs and performed by quietly gliding around the apartment.

UNH's production of The Secret in the Wings will open on Thursday, Nov. 7.

Out of necessity, a shoestring budget and a collaborative spirit a new theater piece emerged. That collaborative spirit will be on full display as Anderson-Rabern directs UNH’s production of Secret in the Wings, which premieres on Thursday at 8 p.m. Showings will also take place on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

In addition to work teaching and directing the production, she also is at work revising her dissertation for book publication, Efficiencies of Slowness: The Politics of Collective Creation.

For years she has studied small theater companies where art lives as much in the process of making theater as it does in the finished work itself. This summer she spoke at two national conferences on the topic.

What she loves is how her teaching, directing and research intersect and inform each other. Anderson-Rabern is an artist and scholar with 15 years of professional and university directing experience. She also trained at Russia's Moscow Art Theater and Stanford University.

She has studied companies such as the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, based, amusingly, in New York City, that may produce just one play every two or three years. The actors report that the process of developing the production is most rewarding, said Anderson-Rabern. “They appreciate what is created – the bond between the people and the collaborative nature of the work,” she said.

These companies have to be extraordinarily imaginative and resourceful because real life – with its attendant costs – is always looming. As a director, Anderson-Rabern finds inspiration everywhere, on each street corner and in everyday life. And her research continually reminds her that it is always possible to stage productions that engage, move and provoke audiences – no matter the constraints – as long as there is true collaboration.

Such is the case with Secret in the Wings. The script by Mary Zimmerman, a Chicago-based, Tony Award-winning playwright and director, allows for a great deal of creative license.

Secret in the Wings
is based on connected and reimagined Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Anderson-Rabern said the show is dark, charming and magical. It is told in part through song and dance. While the script calls for music and has song lyrics, it contains no sheet music. So Anderson-Rabern looked to her cast to create that music along with her. “I am really asking the students to take ownership. What does this sound like? What does it look like on the stage?” she said.

“That’s where the fun happens,” she said. “Building this together.”

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