Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Getting to know Rachel Zatcoff

Rachel Zatcoff and ensemble. Photo: Justin Scholar.
This blog post is an interview of Rachel Zatcoff (starring as Khanele in the summer production of The Golden Bride) and was given by Esther Moerdler, the Communications intern.

Rachel Zatcoff didn’t know Yiddish before joining the cast of The Golden Bride, but that doesn’t seem to stop her. Having started acting and singing as a child, and later studying voice and opera, Zatcoff’s bubbly energy radiates from the stage as she takes on the character of Khanele, the main character Goldele’s best friend and love interest’s sister,  in National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s production, which won two Drama Desk awards.

How did you get involved in Yiddish theater?
Well, for this particular project my agent submitted me for it. My first audition was here at the theater, I had a call back the week after and they ended up calling me. I had five days between my last day at Phantom [of the Opera] and starting here. So it was a very fast transition.

It must have been a stark contrast?
Yes it was, but a very interesting one for me.

How does it compare for you - coming from Phantom of the Opera and now performing in The Golden Bride?
Because the size of the shows are so different, this [Golden Bride] is such an intimate experience and I’ve really appreciated that coming off of Phantom, which is such a spectacle and such a big show. And I had no experience in Yiddish, zero. I had sung in other languages with my opera experience and training, but never Yiddish. I was excited to take on a new language but it was a huge challenge to do it in twelve days.

So you learned all of this in twelve days? How did you go about taking that on?
I had the script and score for three days before rehearsal, whereas typically in most situations I’ve been in I’ve had it for significantly more time than that. So I would come to the first rehearsal with it pretty much learned which was impossible for me to do. But they had a diction coach for us, which was really helpful. Her name is Edit [Kuper] and she really helped me a lot. The cast, all of the other principles had done the show last year, and they were so supportive and helpful in helping me learn everything, and just being there for me because it was stressful. The creative team too, Zalmen [Mlotek], Bryna [Wasserman] and Merete [Muenter], were just really helpful in pacing out the twelve days and making sure I could get it under my belt.

How do you approach playing a comedic role?
It was a challenge, but a fun one. Good comedy, I think, is all about good timing. That’s something hard to gauge, especially while in rehearsal. Without an audience it is tough. I had no idea when they would laugh, and what they would find funny. You can’t guess that, you can’t play to get laughs and be funny. It’s so different from playing the romantic ingénue, and it’s so much fun. Standing there singing a ballad, I’m so used to that, and this is such a refreshing change.

How does the show speak to you?
I love the coming to America story always. It’s so inspirational. Especially in our world today, which is such a mess. We are so lucky to live in America, as cheesy as that may sound. And I love the sense of family, community, unity, and romantic love. The show is funny; it is really so fun and so exciting to be a part of.

If you could sum up the show in one word, what would it be?
Oh, love. I really would. There is a lot of love in the show; family love, love of culture, romantic love, friendship love, all sorts of love. I guess that would be my word. It is so nice. Yesterday I put a post on social media because I felt so touched by the show. I’ve seen people [in the audience] crying laughing, there are so many emotions that have been so awesome.

How is your character like you or different from you?
Well, she is a lot like me because she’s kind of spunky and most people in my life think I’m quite funny. Well, I don’t think I’m all that funny, but people think I am, so it’s nice to finally get my feet wet with a comedic role. I hadn’t had the chance in my career yet to dive into these types of roles. She’s also passionate; I’d say that I’m passionate…and a little crazy.

Is there anything challenging for you about bringing the show to life?
Well, the language is certainly a challenge. It’s one of those shows where you really have to keep reviewing it. You’re speaking in a foreign language and you really have to know what you’re saying... and what everyone else is saying! And for me, I’m usually playing the ingénue role, the Goldele role, you know? So to be playing the comic relief scenes is really just a blast!
The Second act is physically, emotionally and vocally difficult.  I spend a large chunk of time on stage where it is scene, song, scene, song, and that makes it a huge challenge. But Glenn [Seven Allen] has been a total dream to work with. It has its general bone structure but it’s live theater and because it’s so comedic and so much about timing it shifts from show to show, which makes it a lot of fun.

Who in the show’s cast would you say is most like their character?
Ooh, I’m going to say Adam Shapiro as Kalmen. Just because he’s truly that hilarious in life and he would also totally wear a tutu. And that’s why I think he’s so amazing. He brings so much to himself to the role, and that’s why he has the whole house laughing from the start.

If you could play any other role in The Golden Bride, who would it be?
Ooh, anyone? I’d say…The mother, Regina’s [Gibson] role. It is so incredibly powerful, particularly because Regina is so amazing, but also because it’s one of those moments in a show when the whole audience gasps. That this little piece is written into this show that has such a huge impact. She (Regina) always brings herself into the role so deeply that it’s moving to the audience, and moving to me standing there on stage watching her.

What is the last thing you do before you step on stage?
I usually look up. I know this is strange to say but I usually just put my head up, look up, and remember where I am. Remember where I am as Rachel, in my life, and then just bring myself to the show and get excited to tell the story.

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