Theatre may be dark, but we are turning the spotlight on! NLT wants to celebrate theatre creators and change makers that we admire, that inspire us, and that we think are acting as a light in their community. Join us each month as we uplift the voices that are working to positively impact our industry and our fellow humans.
Rachel Camp is a Philly-born and Barrymore Award-winning actor, singer, dancer, musician, and teaching artist as well as a powerful, sensitive, and empathetic performer, teacher, and community leader. In addition to her performance experience, she has worked as a director, choreographer, educator, committee facilitator, and producer, and serves on the board of Theatre Philadelphia. Bringing true magic to her work in education, Rachel portrays the beloved Professor Bazzleby of Fiddleheart Academy of Witchcraft & Wizardry, an immersive summer camp for children. She strives daily to build a healthier, kinder, more communicative world.
NLT: When did you first get involved with theatre, and when did you know it was going to be something you devote your life to?
RC: My mother will joyfully tell the entire story of my request to play the titular role of “Swimmy” in my preschool adaptation of the book Swimmy, so I suppose theater has been with me from the start of things. Which makes sense, because my mom was a professional singer and I grew up watching her perform in choirs, operas, and musicals. I started dancing competitively with my dance studio at age 8, and taking voice lessons around age 13, doing school plays starting in Middle School -- and on top of all that, my older brother and younger sister both got involved with, majored in, and developed careers in the performing arts. We’re a semi-disturbingly theater family that way. And it’s true that I have devoted my career thus far to the art form - something I doubled down on by auditioning for theater programs to earn a conservatory-style theater degree, and then pursued with gusto in the past decade. But it’s interesting, I think along the way I learned and appreciated that my entire life doesn’t have to be devoted to theater. That actually so much of my life is devoted to so many different things, different interests, different priorities. So my career thus far has been made possible by my interest in and pursuit of a patchwork freelance career in the arts, but I hold a lot of space for a lot of devotions in my life, and I’m curious which ones will surface when.
NLT: Of all the roles you’ve filled, on and off-stage, is there one that has challenged you the most?
RC: Ooh, different challenges for different roles, certainly. There’s no challenge like the challenge of directing a summer theater program (the Consortium for the Arts in Upper Merion) with 50+ students 7th-12th grade to put on a musical in 4 weeks time with only 4 hours a day. The over-caffeination alone on those summer mornings...but I wouldn’t say that was my least favorite kind of challenge, because the rewards were so enormous. It is a different kind of challenge to work as a performer with a director whose vision or company management style you disagree with, or as a young performer to work with material or roles that didn’t speak to my values and in fact sometimes contradicted them. Those kinds of challenges can have existential costs to them that I’ve begun to recognize. I’ve learned to ask new questions spurred by those experiences: what pieces of myself might I be sacrificing to participate in this artistic experience? Is this artistic product going to project values into the world that I find harmful or denigrating to myself or others? Is this process going to empower me or disempower me? Then I can weigh those costs against the benefits and figure out if we’re in healthy challenge territory or go-find-some-other-work territory.
NLT: Is there a part of yourself that you see recurring in your work?
RC: This is such an interesting question. I see so many different parts of myself showing up in my work again and again. It’s a whole self that participates in building and working from a worldview, right? The values that I try to cultivate on a regular basis include compassion, wisdom, growth, and empowerment. Are they present in every element of every process? That’s the goal, though I’ll keep missing and keep aiming and keep missing and keep aiming. I think there’s an undercurrent that runs through every space I inhabit - which is that I love and believe that there is good in every human being, sometimes warped by the world, by culture, by trauma, by biology, but that goodness is worth listening to, honoring, and fighting for. So I guess the part of me that recurs, from acting to directing to administrating to simulated-patient-ing to teaching, is that desire to connect to people’s tender humanness.
NLT: You’re on the board of Theatre Philadelphia. What are your hopes for our post-pandemic theatre community?
RC: This is such a doozy of a question, so here’s one version of an answer:
My vision for a post-pandemic theatre community includes a bustling and respected theater scene, uplifted by city leaders as an artform that brings both financial and cultural integrity to the city of Philadelphia, that employs artists at sustainable wages in healthy, supportive, communicative environments, in projects that represent a progressively widespread portion of - at the very least - the population of Philadelphia, offered under a model that has the wealthiest patrons helping make theater more accessible to potential patrons with fewer means, with rising leaders of color and of various sexualities, gender identities, and skill sets supported in their ascent to equitable positions of shared power across all regional offices, stages, and boards.
NLT: Your work at Fiddleheart Academy of Witchcraft & Wizardry combines magic and theatre. How did you come to create your teaching persona?
RC: We founded Fiddleheart back in 2016 and one of the first tasks of this immersive part-camp, part-theater experience was creating the characters each of the professors would play to teach classes, inhabit the lore of the institution, and guide our students through a mystery storyline where they have to access their skills and magic to save the day! Enter: Professor Bazzleby, my favorite alter ego. I knew very few things about Professor Bazzleby at first - she taught Charms, History of Magic, Dueling, and she led the School Song. And she was the Head of House Zakari, which had been developed with a few qualities in mind - at the front, boldness and adaptability. I would not say that boldness or confidence were inherently strong traits in myself. I’m definitely of the “fake it till you make it” school of confidence; very infrequently feeling it very deeply, but always trying to act as though I do in the name of moving forward, of getting things done, of reaching for goals. I have a complicated relationship with confidence in my personal life. Professor Bazzleby is not like that - she takes up space in a brilliant, fully embodied, unapologetic way, all for the purpose of finding the vibrancy in others and welcoming it out. I think performing or engaging with children is the most legitimately confident I ever feel, because I refuse to reflect or emanate shame about myself in front of young people. I have a really strong, involuntary impulse in front of kids to model a way of being that makes no apology for the way I look, or sound, or feel enthusiasm, because I don’t want them to ever feel like they need to apologize for the way they look, or sound, or feel enthusiasm. Bazz is the most concentrated version of that impulse, and I spend much of my time in my muggle life (and in therapy - yay therapy!) working on being more like her.
NLT: Is there a favorite lesson or moment from teaching that has stayed with you?
RC: I have about three million favorite moments, and they’re almost always about the shy kids. The kid who was afraid to dance at all in my first years working with ZoomDance (storytelling imagination dance company for 1-8) but who warmed to the class mascot Mr. Pony Pants and eventually swished gleefully across the floor with the rest of the toddlers. A quiet student in my 5th grade Arden for All class who had a half-shave haircut like me who by the end of our second class together called herself my “Mini Me”. I think the immersive in-story nature of Fiddleheart educational experiences means that I get to be in an action adventure story with my students, which lends itself time and time again to incredibly moving moments. One that will stick with me forever will be in Fiddleheart Year 2 when I as Professor Bazzleby was experiencing a life-threatening malady, and on the penultimate adventure day, my diagnosis was looking pretty grim. And these sweet, imaginative, completely in-world 10-year-olds were begging with our staff to not give up, to find the way to solve this mystery and to work with them to save me. One of the students at the close of day looked at me tearfully and said, “Professor Bazzleby, where do you live? I’m gonna send you my Patronus tonight, okay? It’s a rainbow unicorn dog, and it will protect you! Don’t forget me, Professor Bazzleby!” I mean, come on. COME ON! Best job ever.
NLT: Why are you drawn to theatre education?
RC: I think theater is a unique tool for empowering young people - it’s utilization in that setting is of its greatest superpowers, in my opinion. It takes learning out of the cognitive and into the somatic, kinetic experience of embodiment. There are just countless ways that participating in theater cultivates skills that can serve you - sure, professionally, but even more profoundly, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. The emphasis on voice, presence, taking up space, clarity, communication, empathy, empathy, empathy, collaborative participation on a team, creative problem solving, storytelling as a necessary element of our culture...and it takes such bravery! Theatre education from a performance standpoint spends most of its time teaching young people how to imagine they might feel if they were someone else, what choices they might make if motivated by a certain set of circumstances. It teaches you how to speak up. How to be heard. How to use your own experiences to shape your understanding of the world and how to shape a new one. Theatre education teaches respect for stories via the knowledge of oneself. At it’s best, it requires such respect for other humans and their stories. It is a space where outsiders tend to gather, because the whole task is rooted in finding and sharing common humanity. I could go on and on.
NLT: Why is magic an important thing for children to experience?
RC: Magic is an important thing for everyone to experience. It’s easy for kids. It’s right on their finger tips, because they know it’s real. They know the miracle of a bud blooming into a flower is a quieter version of the magic that sets a pegasus sailing through the sky. They know that imagination and reality are inexorably tied. Magic is where creativity and imagination and possibility all exist together. Where change-making happens. You can’t tell me that listening to live music isn’t magic. That magic isn’t at the heart of a dance party where everyone starts to lose themselves in the rhythm, transcending their bodies. That there isn’t magic every time you choose to really, really pay attention. We are full of untapped powers. Kids want to tap into it so badly, they just need adults around who remind them that they can, to lead by example in their own belief of magic.
NLT: Is there a person, cause, or event in your life that you return to when you are in need of motivation to keep going?
RC: I think of the love in my life as existing in a social garden that I’m in charge of tending. My relationships look different in the garden: some romantic partnerships, some family ties, some fresh friendships, some deeply rooted friendships that shift and change depending on the time of year. I am a person who believes deeply in the power of this garden and the way its health impacts meaning in my life. So when I lack motivation, I turn to it. Tending it makes me feel better. Reminds me that whatever stress I’m suffering, whatever high stakes I’m interpreting, whatever sludge I’m trucking through...it’s likely impermanent. Sometimes all it takes is a tiny reach-out to remind me. The reciprocity of the garden is undeniable - by offering to it, rewards are reaped tenfold. My greatest motivation is the love in my garden - when that’s in balance, I truly feel like I can do anything.
NLT: What is the last piece of writing you read that you had to share with a friend?
RC: Y’all are smart to word this one as the “last piece of writing” rather than any piece of writing, because I definitely have a mountain of recommendations on standby and I’m itching to share, but I’ll be brief. I just bought my dad a copy of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. This book is such a gorgeous blend of the wonders of biology and the poetry of world experience, and I have gifted many copies of it over the years. For an intro, you can listen to her interview with Krista Tippet (On Being podcast), but this is probably my number 1 most recommended non-fiction book for its gorgeous portrait of the world. (Runners up, you ask? Celeste Ng is one of my my most frequent realistic fiction recommendation, Madeline Miller & NK Jemisin my top fantasy authors, Brene Brown and Pemo Chodron my top self-discovery works, and Ross Gay my top poet.)
NLT: What was the last song or album you listened to that you had on repeat?
RC: I cannot stop listening to Mikal Kilgore’s A Man Born Black. He was the last live concert I attended before the world shut down in 2020, and I found the experience incredibly moving. “Let Me Go” and its reprise are on a frequent rotation in my mindspace - the way he incorporates wisdom and fun and skillllllll into his singing is just so impressive to me. Huge fan!
NLT: What’s the last television show, movie, or recorded theatre piece you watched that deeply moved you?
RC: I’m going to take the opportunity to answer each of these, since you asked about such different mediums and because I’m an over-writer:
TV - I May Destroy You. When this series got snubbed at the Golden Globes I remembered I had pinned it to watch but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I watched the entire thing in a few (intense) days.
Nomadland - Director Chloe Zhao has woven something so stunning with this piece. I often feel disillusioned by the glitz and glamour element of Hollywood, and this piece reminds me that incredible, meaningful art can prevail in spite of those standards.
In & of Itself - I haven’t watched a lot of theater in the last year, but this show was gorgeously filmed and really fascinatingly constructed. Made me miss live theater quite a bit - I look forward to sitting in an audience again.