Rachel Alexa Norman

Checking in with Rachel about her start with The Barnstormers, how this year went for her and hopes for the future.

I grew up performing from a very young age, and haven’t really stopped since! Starting at the age of 7, I sang with the NYC Opera’s Children’s Chorus at Lincoln Center and performed with them and many other opera companies in the city until my junior year of high school (in the opera, you would “age” out of the children’s chorus when you grew taller than the shortest adult chorus members…. that never really happened for me). I ended up at NYU’s Tisch School of The Arts after a brief detour at Oberlin, where I received my BFA. In the years since graduation, I have been active in Off-Broadway and regional theatre, as well as a stint doing musical improv at The Magnet Theatre weekly for two years as a member of the city’s first all-female house team, The Jezebelles.

My first show with The Barnstormers was 2008’s Babes in Arms. I had an absolute blast, though, as a life-long Manhattanite, I felt very fish-out-of-water in Tamworth at first, and was pretty sure that I had found the actual Brigadoon. Of course, I fell in love with the town, the community, and the theatre and have returned for 9 more seasons since! Some favorites from over the years include You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown; Urinetown; Lend Me A Tenor; and my absolute favorite role, Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, opposite my favorite frequent on-stage paramour, Jordan Ahnquist.

Rachel and Jordan in The Complete History of Western Civilization (Abridged)

There are so many favorite moments that it is hard to single out just a few. So let’s start with the challenges! Of course, the challenge of putting up a fully-realized show in such a short period of time (especially thinking back to the older, even more breakneck rehearsal schedule) is one of the hallmarks of the Barnstormers experience, and something I relish. The first time I did the back-to-back show schedule was in 2011, as Sally in Charlie Brown and Maggie in Lend Me A Tenor. I think that qualifies as a favorite and a challenge; thank goodness it was a classic slamming-doors farce, because some of those looks of surprise and confusion were genuine for those first few run-through rehearsals!

Another challenge I remember fondly was during rehearsals for Leading Ladies. My character’s first scene was on roller skates, which are distinctly *not* listed in the special skills section of my resume. Luckily, Clayton (our director) was something of a rollerskating expert, and between my own practice beforehand and his after-hours skating lessons in Town Hall, I felt confident. Until my first time doing the scene in skates….. in the barn. Uneven barn flooring, roller skates, and my own questionable grace and balance was quite a sight! At least the character was supposed to be a poor skater, so I was just going very method.

Truly, however, my time at the Barnstormers is all favorite moments. Running lines behind the barn with our feet in the water. The satisfying exhaustion of the 10 out of 12. Cooking up family meals at The Gilman. Watching the next cast’s run-through on our last Saturday, and finally understanding the context of those scenes I helped run lines for. Midnight dips in the lake and tech house bonfires. Being a part of such a wonderful community of artists. Every moment, a favorite.

I had taken a break from theatre in 2019 because I gave birth to my son in June. I was very excited to jump back into it in 2020 (ha!), and marveled at my good fortune that the summer theatre season of 2020 was great timing to be able to dive back in (double ha!). My very last “normal” day in March was, actually, my callback for The Barnstormers! Obviously, my grand re-entry back onto the stage was derailed very spectacularly. I am lucky that I love my “survival” job as an academic tutor, and that I was able to pivot from in-person tutoring to working completely remotely. So in that sense, I have maintained a decent continuity and normalcy. My husband has also been working from home, so we have all gotten to spend more time together than we ever would have if the world hadn’t gone remote. I do cherish how much time I have gotten to spend with my son (and husband!), but I think we are all ready for a little bit more independence when the world opens up again.

I don’t believe that this will kill the theatre, I can’t believe that. Theatre has been around for millenia; it has survived plagues, pandemics, famine, wars, and every atrocity conceivable. Theatre is essential as entertainment, as instruction, as diversion, as catharsis, and as connection. That last is truly what I think will power not just a reemergence of theatre in the future, but a blossoming. For me and for most people, this has been an experience of isolation, of disconnection. I believe that when we have moved past this, and when the world opens up again, what everyone will be seeking is to connect again- with family, with friends, with humanity- not from behind a screen, but a living, breathing, three dimensional connection. We will connect in celebration, we will connect in grief, but we will connect. And the theatre is, to me, a sacred place of connection. I hope and believe that the world will not only want but need theatre again. I can’t wait to be there when it does.

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