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Interview with Rachel York

If I HAD to pick ONE word to describe Rachel York... I would probably be in trouble. Because, you really need two words to describe her - dramatic and fun. This was one interview that I wish I had on video because many of her answers included sound effects, different voices, and elaborate physical movements when she described her experiences in ballet class. We both found ourselves laughing several times

NR: Can you give me a little back- ground? Where did you grow up?

RY: I was born in Orlando, Florida and my family moved to Boulder, Colorado when I was nine and a half. It was a big change. I had lived in the country in Florida and we were very simple. So, we moved to Boulder, and believe it or not that was a very cosmopolitan town in comparison to Florida. I was very shy when I moved there. I was very, very shy. I was always a clown at home. I was always singing and dancing. My mom sang and she would play the piano and we all sang together. But, when I was in school I was very shy because I came from Florida and they made fun of me because I had a funny accent, so I sort of clammed up. In fact I was so shy in school that when my teacher would call upon me to read out loud I would panic and I just couldn't do it. Until, finally when I was 13, something in me just said "I want to act. I want to do a play. That's what I want to do." When I went to the audition for the school play the director had everybody do a cold read. You know, he handed you the script COLD. It petrified me so much that I left the audition. I never auditioned. And then after that I realized that I had to get over this. So on my own ... my parents worked out of town a lot. So I was actually like a latchkey kid. And my brothers and sisters were off at college. So I had a lot of spare time at home. And so I used that time - I would sing. Instead of doing my homework sometimes I would sing for three hours. Or I would read a play and I would practice aloud a monologue and I spent that time on my own just trying to come out of my shell.

NR: Did that help you?

RY: Actually the thing that really brought me out was choir. I always sang with my mom but I never really realized that I had anything like a gift. I just thought everybody could sing. So when I was 13, I was in the school choir and I realized, "Hey, I can sing really well. These people can't really sing that well." Then I started getting all the solos and that helped me to come out. That gave me the courage, after practicing, to audition for the school play. So from 13 on, throughout school, I was in every school play and all the choir concerts. My parents were gone a lot and so I submerged myself into theater and music.

NR: Is that when you decided to become a performer?

RY: I came from an upper middle class family but our lives were sort of like "feast or famine." My dad was an engineer and he would have these contracts. And so it was like in acting. We would have lots of money for a certain amount of time and then he would be trying to get work. And one particularly bad time was right at the time of my high school graduation. So, at that time I decided that I hated school so much. I was an A/B student but I did my homework just to get it done. I just hated it. I just wanted to get out and I wanted to DO WHAT I WANTED TO DO, which was I wanted to act and I wanted to sing. So I had to make a big decision when I graduated and that was either to go to a regular state college in the theater department, or what I really wanted to do, which was to go to Julliard. I auditioned and I didn't get in. They took about 25 people out of 4,000 and I was 18, and it was pretty rare that they would take people that were under 25. So, I had to make a decision. Do I want to go to a regular college and work my way through college with loans and all that stuff or DO I WANT TO GO OUT THERE and just try to make it? And study? And I really did believe in studying. I actually had a scholarship to the American Center for Music Theater at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA because you should know that in my senior year I moved to San Clemente, California and after I graduated, at 18, I moved to LA. That was a 2 year scholarship so I went there when I was 17 and 18. I also studied acting with a man named Aaron Spizer who encouraged me to move to New York. I was kind of his star pupil at the time. I was very green and so many of the plays were about New Yorkers and the playwrights were New Yorkers and I really hadn't lived in that world. That's what I was craving. I felt that one thing I was missing in my work at that time (dramatically) at that time because I knew SO MUCH at 18! was LIFE experience. I didn't have enough LIFE experience to feed what I wanted to do. I was interested in doing musical theater because I could sing but my main goal was acting. So he encouraged me to come out here and luckily after I was here about 2 months I enrolled in a "song presentation" class. And the accompanist, Brad Ross, came up to me and said, "You know, you have a really pretty voice. Could you do some demos for me?" I didn't really know what that was so I asked "How much will that cost?" He said, "No, no, no, the demo's for me. I want you to sing my material." So I went over to his place and we sang all these different songs in different styles and he said to me, "You can sing in any style there is. Do you have an agent?" and I said "No, I just moved here." So he introduced me to Bill Timms, and Bill Timms has been my agent ever since. (laughing) I won't tell you how long that's been because then you'll know how old I am, but it's been many years.

NR: Did you study dance as a child?

RY: Um hmm. I started dance class at 8. I started ballet and tap. Tap was my forté, but in ballet I started to feel like a clod. (laughs) I always thought I was a clod compared to all those other people. Which was something that I used as Norma - when I played Norma Cassidy (in Victor/Victoria). Because we moved around so much when I was a child, I would be getting really good at ballet and then we'd move. Then I wouldn't study for a year. And so then I'd enroll myself back into the advanced class. I guess I sabotaged myself basically. So all these people would be doing these splits in the air and I'd be like (very ungraceful gesture here!) You know, I felt like such a clod! So I remember that I thought "I'm going to use this for Norma - that feeling." And it was great! You know when she does "Chicago, Illinois" and all the girls are kicking their legs and she's TRYING TO KICK HER LEG HIGH!

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Interview conducted and photographs by Nancy Rosati.

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