May 17th, 2015




Today’s installment takes us back to the PCDS Eagle’s Nest, a somewhat prickly scene from which one allegedly cannot escape. Aside from teaching me that I was more comfortable on stage than anywhere else, Greasepaint had taught me the mechanics of performing, like how to memorize lines, learn choreography, or fill a large room with my voice (a lesson, truth be told, that didn’t require much teaching). By the time musical director Schert arrived at Phoenix Country Day School, I had my tools, I had home court advantage at my own school, and I was ready to use that big voice both on and off the stage.


At a New York PCDS reunion many years ago, a phrase circulated. “PCDS: we don’t get them smart; we make them smart.” Now, surely this was never the school’s official slogan, but the fact remains that something changed for me on that PCDS stage. My brain became bigger than my voice. Maybe it was just age (is there anything worse than a teen artist?), maybe it was the zeitgeist (angst was all the rage in the 90s), or maybe it was because I had a director who listened, counseled, respected, never pulled rank although it was completely within her right, and persistently made me feel like I was a part of the creative process. Looking back, this is precisely what I aimed to do with my own creative team long after I left that Eagle’s Nest, which perhaps explains why, on the last day the store was open, I wrote, “Thank you, I love you, goodbye,” on our chalkboard walls, a phrase only familiar to little Eaglets.

Lucy and Schroeder

So, the facts are these: PCDS is where I became aware of the audience, and that relationship continues to affect and haunt my journey through the arts. I can pinpoint this moment when Lucy sings to Schroeder as the exact moment when I became aware of WANTING the audience’s laugh. Mostly because Ezra Weiss always got the bigger one. And apparently my future fashion choices were also modeled on this moment, because I refuse to quit the saddle shoes and little blue dress.

It is perhaps fitting (and to the advantage of those alumni who went on to bigger and less creative things) that I have only fuzzy, ghost-faced images to share, screenshots from the videos that, yes, I watched last night. I carry with me no staged images of those days, only the rough, dated, complete story.



But let me discuss a couple things I learned from those videos.

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown: This was an unconventional PCDS musical. It took place in the fall, because Schert was pregnant, it featured a 6-person cast, and half of those cast members were in middle school. Schert, I’m sure this decision was both a challenge and a risk. I remember thinking at the time that our casting was perfect, that we were all playing the roles we were born to play. After watching it last night, I still agree. Peter Chiarelli & Ezra Weiss, you were delightfully honest, and, although I still dress like her, I wish I had the confidence and freedom of that little girl playing Lucy. Thank you. To all of you. To the boys, for sharing that stage with me. To Schert, for both trusting me and for allowing me. To my mom, for making that outfit that I apparently never took off. And to the audience, for revealing yourself.


Pirates of Penzance: Due respect to Kevin Kline and Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow (who came AFTER), but Jonathan Ashley is the best Pirate King to walk either stage or plank. I’ll spare you all the proof, but watching our scenes reminded me that being a pirate was perhaps the most fun I ever had on stage.

So, because we’re talking about the plight that is the teen artist, today I nominate the teachers, past and present, who help wake the dreams and muddle through the occasional nightmares that accompany them: Brenda Schertenlieb, Becca Edwards, Erin Lynch.

[With a quiet nod to Linda Bryant, the only art teacher who ever made me feel like I belonged at the table.]

[As long as we’re calling upon our teachers, if grammar is an art, then Louise Crabtree is unequivocally my favorite artist.]

Posted at 9:20 pm by rachel in: After Wonderland, Our Favorites, The Family

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May 16th, 2015

Where Dreams Are Born



If you were an Arizona theatre kid in the 80s, you wanted to be Kristen Sampsell so bad. She was beautiful, sang like an angel, and had just enough mystery to keep you intrigued. So, when I got to be the Mr. Neilson to her Pippi Longstocking, I didn’t care that I was wearing head-to-toe faux fur and some innocent version of blackface; I had arrived!

Mary Poppins  Pinnochio

That’s what Greasepaint Scottsdale Youtheatre was for us. Like Neverland before it, it was a place where the big kids got to play as adults and teach us that “it gets better” before that was a thing, and the babies had our spotlight moments before our tenth birthdays. And the process continued. New babies came in, and the roles adjusted accordingly. I always thought that these early days meant so much more to me than they should. But after reading Amanda’s Facebook Artists Challenge post and its comments, I realize that what Wendy Leonard did more expertly than block some scenes or choreograph some dances is create a family. Perhaps that’s what young creatives need most; it’s not just about the stage but also about feeling you belong there.

Wendy gave us that.

Pooh  Snow White

Now, as the photos indicate, mine was a less glamorous and often hooded spot in that family. I played a penguin, a goose, a cricket, a monkey, a pig, a fairy, a bear, a scarecrow, a witch, and a grumpy dwarf. I mastered the tight French braid at an early age, and ironically Little Red Riding Hood was one of the few roles where my real hair wasn’t masked by a hood. Even at my most triumphant “human” moment as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, my hair was tucked up under my wig. I’m now wondering if my entire theatrical career could be subtitled: I want to be a blonde! But Audrey did work in a flower shop, another irony not lost on me given my current horticultural endeavors.

Little Shop

The point is that Wendy gave us so much more than a stage. She gave us a community that has lasted beyond the fire engine red lips of these photos. And when we lost a member of that community nearly a year ago, we found each other again, this time on the other side of the rainbow, but equally intertwined.

Wizard of Oz

So, on that note, today I’m nominating a few I met once upon a time on this childhood stage, but who stayed with me on this daunting journey through wonderland: Ezra Weiss, Nancy Perla Michaelis, Sarah Kane, Ryan O’Connor. (Yeah, I nominated 4. It’s ok, you guys.)

Golden Goose

And before signing off for the day, I need to say some things about Jack & the Beanstalk. I had done other shows, but this was the first one I auditioned for, as in, this was the first time I could have been rejected! So, in some ways, this might be where my sense of self began. This is also where I first met the greatest dancer I had ever seen, Sarah Calvin (who was also allowed to wear colored Keds instead of just white), the artist forever known as my giant, Kerr Lordygan, and the beauty, Little Miss America herself, Amanda Paytas Stevens.

It was 1987, and Amanda and I were to become best friends, but to my little child brain, Amanda’s magical harp and my golden goose could not be more different. Amanda’s lines were in verse and spoken on command. My lines were “honk, honk” and said whenever I wanted. Amanda’s costume highlighted her natural beauty, and she had glitter sprinkled in her blonde hair. I had my face painted gold, I was wearing a hood, my duck bill was too heavy and would fall over my eyes, and my little webbed feet made me waddle.

Just watch the video on Facebook, kids. And forgive me!


Posted at 8:32 pm by rachel in: After Wonderland, Our Favorites, The Family

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May 15th, 2015

Challenge Accepted

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 6.27.25 PM

Artists Facebook Challenge: Post a picture for five days from your artistic career, each day nominating three other artists to do the same.

Day 1:

This morning, Amanda Paytas Stevens nominated me for this. I was honored first that anyone would consider me an “artist,” but secondly that the nomination came from my childhood musical theatre co-pilot. I am currently resisting every urge to make this about her. My guess is that I cave tomorrow.

My early childhood involved perpetual singing, dancing, and cartwheeling in the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places. I was first put to the stage in 1986 as this pint-sized Mary Poppins and a year later as a far wiser but equally tiny Liesl in Phoenix Country Day School class productions. {Costume credit goes entirely to my very talented mother, even though our little Austrian teen looks more Pocahontas.} Being on stage felt more safe and natural than perhaps anything I will ever know.

A classmate’s mom noticed that this shy little math nerd morphed when in front of a crowd, so she took me to the Greasepaint Scottsdale Youtheatre production of Wizard of Oz. It was a simple Saturday afternoon that probably changed my life, and I don’t know that I’ve ever admitted that it wasn’t all my idea. Stay tuned tomorrow for tales of yellow bricks and painted faces and the wonderland governed by our wizard, Wendy Leonard.

For Day 1 nominations, I’m starting at the end with Taylor Woody Thompson, Sarah Rhodes, and Sara Beth Longenecker. These women remind me that art is a daily affliction that takes many forms throughout a life, a lesson I’ve had to learn and accept. Cheers, ladies. You inspire me from afar and challenge me to claim my rightful creative spot!

Posted at 8:23 pm by rachel in: After Wonderland, Our Favorites, The Family

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October 28th, 2011

Our Trends Take Flight


Oh, Nashville, we’ve noticed an undeniable truth: we are perpetually ahead of the trends. We were, for example, selling Pan Am bags back in 2008, long before Christina Ricci was a 90-pound flight attendant on ABC. Right now, we’re all about casual, cozy, and conscientious: soft sweatshirts (the more of an 80s/90s tribute, the better) and fashion that serves a global function. And for those of you on the Pan Am kick (as we still are with our 60s-inspired Emily & Fin dresses), we have some lingering Pan Am notecards. Yes, we’re all about the classics, and if handwriting someone a card isn’t a nod to times past, then we don’t know what is!

And speaking of television shows, here’s a little-known fact: when not trend-spotting, Rachel’s eyes are glued to the tube. Her fashion may be found here in our rabbit hole, but her TV musings are found at

So, come fly our friendly skies. We’ll always keep you within a few years of what’s happening live.

Posted at 3:29 pm by rachel in: Clothes, Our Favorites, The Family

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August 16th, 2011

Something Old, Something New


Well, it’s that time of year again, Nashville. We’ve been through many years with The Scene’s annual Best of Nashville Reader’s Poll, and you’ve shown us lots of sometimes appropriate and sometimes bizarre love. In 2007, you named us the Best New Retail when we were the new kids on the 12South block, and the praise didn’t stop there. We’ve been everything from Best Men’s and Best Women’s Boutique to Best Place to Meet Single Women AND Best Place to Meet Single Men. Last year, we made a play for Best Place to Shoot Pool, but, alas, no such luck. So, here’s what Nashville: this year we’re trying a new approach. There are a lot of local faves asking for and worthy of your vote, but we’re no longer campaigning. We’re just going to give you the tools:

Go there. Exercise your freedom of choice. Sing the praise of all the local businesses that make up this community we call home (we’d list our favorites here, but instead we’re just going to go vote!). And who knows! Maybe, come October, we’ll celebrate together by clearing off that pool table and letting it fulfill its purpose in life.

So, that’s the 2011 campaign, Nashville: freedom of choice.


Posted at 11:32 am by rachel in: Our Favorites

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