Stars Behind The Stars: Rebecca Miller Kratzer '21
BY Robbie Armstrong, February 18, 2020
Stars Behind The Stars is a bi-weekly series featuring theatre makers behind the scenes. This week we sat down with current Directing student Rebecca Miller Kratzer and discussed her upcoming production of The Merchant of Venice. Miller Kratzer is a Leo who has directed numerous Operas, plays, and musicals.
Tell me about your first time being involved in Theatre.
Rebecca Miller Kratzer: I think I was five or six and part of an afterschool program. I do remember singing ‘Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Boo’ as an overzealous fairy godmother in a loose adaptation of Snow White. Yes, Snow White.
What is your sign and how does it appear in your work as a Director?
RMK: My sun is in Leo, but most people think I’m a Virgo (and they’re not completely wrong—my Mercury, Venus, and Mars are all in Virgo).
Where my Leo traits shine are in the way I lead a room, a group, and a process. I’ve never been afraid of public speaking and this is probably where my Sun in Leo and Mercury in Virgo work really well together. I’m very passionate and direct. I love to empower people, and to me, there’s nothing more important in directing than providing a space where your team is encouraged to make big, messy choices. There are some misconceptions that Leos are addicted to drama. But rather than stirring up my personal life, I understand the spectrum of human emotion and love to push that onstage.
One big misconception of Leos is that we are all ego-monsters, but I’d say that I enter a process without ego. We are all there to serve the story and there is no hierarchy to idea generation within a rehearsal process.
And, because I’m very into astrology as a tool for self-reflection, I’ll share that my rising sign is Sagittarius and my moon is in Taurus.
What are you working on right now?
RMK: I’m currently working on a production of The Merchant of Venice as a part of the Directing program here at Columbia with an all-Jewish cast and creative team. We are focusing on themes of justice, assimilation, and survival. It’s really a reclamation of The Merchant of Venice through the structure of a Purim spiel. I’ve been thinking a lot about the holiday of Purim and the Megillah (The Book of Esther) and how they relate to Merchant. What we really hope to do both through the staging and the casting is ask what it really means to be Jewish.
Have you incorporated Judaism in your other productions?
RMK: Yes. I was raised Jewish, though not religiously observant. And it’s only since coming to Columbia that I’ve explored my relationship to Judaism through my artistic practice. Rather than identifying as “culturally Jewish” or “spiritally Jewish,” I’d say that I identify as artistically Jewish, though I’ve recently become interested in reclaiming the word Jew and saying I am a Jew without qualification.
In our first semester, we had to present a Greek Chorus and I included a song in Hebrew. I found a rich connection in the antiquity of the form and the language. It was a song I hadn’t thought about in a long time, a song that I grew up singing in my synagogue's chorus. As I continued on this path, I realised that anytime I bring an element of my heritage into a piece, my work deepens. I’m interested in following that thread as I continue to develop my work.
Three other examples include a 40-minute version of Fiddler on The Roof using the original Sholem Alechim text. All the Tevye stories are from his perspective but this version put those stories back into the mouths of the women they’re about. The second is an aggressive reconfiguration of Caryl Churchill’s controversial Seven Jewish Children. And the third is a new collaboration with current students Danielle Feder, A.A. Brenner, and Raffie Rosenberg. It’s called Rachel’s Out-of-this-World Bat Mitzvah and it’s an exploration of the Jewish American Princess stereotype told through the form of an early-2000s bat mitzvah party.
What do you find unique about working on Merchant?
RMK: I’ve never directed a full length Shakespeare play before. This one is a 90 minute cut but it still contains all of the major elements. Our version is an experiment in casting for identity and I don’t exactly know what’s going to happen, which is so exciting for me. We’ll be bringing in the stories of each cast member, using those to inform the show. I asked every person auditioning about why they wanted to do this play and I cast the people who had deeper thoughts and questions about this play.
What is the most important role you have at the theatre?
RMK: I think of directing like captaining a ship. I cannot do all of the specialized jobs of the crew but I can make sure that we are all working together to steer this thing to its destination. I make sure we fill up with enough cargo (ideas) that we create something really specific, but not so many that we are weighed down and confused. I’m the initiator and the final say, but the best case scenario is that the actors and creative team have better ideas than me.
If you could be any famous child, which one would you be?
RMK: Shirley Temple. When I was five I had a truly heinous case of the chicken pox and I watched every single one of her movies with my mom. I just wanted to be her!
What’s your favorite play/musical?
RMK: Sunday in the Park with George.
What’s your next project?
RMK: This spring at Columbia I will be directing Ida Esmaeili’s new play tenderly. It’s about the intersection of love and global politics. My materials project is Leornard Berinstein’s opera, Trouble in Tahiti. It’s an intimate study on the disintegration and erosion of a marriage. I’m also directing a reading of a new musical with Producing current student Megan Savage called The Wrong American by Jack Mitchell and Alex Petri. Then this summer I’ll be a directing fellow at Opera Saratoga and taking Rachel’s Out-of-this-World Bat Mitzvah on a Canadian tour with fellow collaborators Danielle Feder, A.A. Brenner, and Raffie Rosenberg.
Read more from this series
Stars Behind the Stars: Ali Simone '19
Stars Behind The Stars: Elisabeth Frankel ’19
Stars Behind The Stars: A Tale of Two Tauruses
Stars Behind The Stars: A.A. Brenner '21
Stars Behind The Stars: Rachel A. Zucker ’17
Stars Behind the Stars: Cha Ramos '21
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