Theater Major Diamond ‘Dares to be Brilliant’

By Purnell T. Cropper | April 20, 2012

Theater Arts and Acting major Rachel Diamond ’12 has already tasted success in the dynamic and unpredictable world of theater: performed in a professional off-West End production in London, wowed hundreds of her peers at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) and premiered two of her original plays on British stages. Now, after four years of rigorous training, the actor and playwright will present her Senior Capstone project, the culmination of her undergraduate academic journey.

Diamond earned the chance to perform on a regional stage in The Swing of the Sea, one of Arcadia University’s most memorable productions. Featured on Arcadia’s MainStage in December 2011, The Swing of the Seawas one of eight productions selected from a pool of more than 60 plays to be performed at KCACTF in January 2012.

“Getting the opportunity to give the gift of the show to the audiences at KCACTF was incredible,” says Diamond. “More than 400 people saw the show in a single day, and for the rest of our time at the festival the cast was constantly approached by students and professors who wanted to tell us how much the show touched them. We already knew the show was powerful— we felt it all through the rehearsal and performance process.

“At Arcadia, finding truth in our acting is the goal, and the truths in The Swing of the Sea are sometimes as painful as they are beautiful. We had a lot of fun in creating the performance, but there were also a lot of tears in the process.” The Swing of the Sea won the regional division but due to KCACTF budget cuts, the show was not performed on the national stage.

One of the highlights of the production process was working with The Swing of the Sea playwright, Molly Hagan, who went on to receive the Mimi and Harold Steinberg National Student Playwriting Award at KCACTF. Hagan came to Arcadia to work with the actors during the rehearsal process. “Through Mark’s direction, our performances, and the changes Molly made to the script during the process, [the production] got even stronger at the festival. Everyone involved in this show cared about it so much, and […] I think that showed in the performances at the festival. Add to that the energy of 200 audience members per show and it was hard not to feel transformed once the lights came up.”

A large part of that transformative experience has been catalyzed by Professors Mark Wade and Kathryn Petersen, who directed The Swing of the Sea and The Children’s Hour respectively. They’re part of a collection of faculty members who go above and beyond to support and inspire students at Arcadia and beyond.

“[Mark and Kathryn] are both so supportive of their students as those students work to find the way they personally work and how they can grow in that. While working on The Swing of the Sea, I was going through huge changes as an actor, in every way, and I sometimes found that painfully hard and really scary but Mark always reminded me that he cast me for a reason and that I had to ‘dare to be brilliant.’” They are words that Diamond will carry with her always.

Diamond’s accomplishments aren’t confined to this side of the pond. She participated in Arcadia’s London Preview in 2009 and returned to England in spring 2011 to study at Queen Mary University of London for a full semester. During her time at Queen Mary she landed a small role in an off-West End production of Christopher Durang’s play, Wanda’s Visit. Although she had to keep up with her courses by writing her essays backstage during the two-week run of the show, she says, “I wouldn’t have traded it in for anything.”

London is among the best cities in the world for fans of the theater, and Diamond made the most of her time there. Through a university course, she saw a show every week. By the end of term, she had seen just about every style of theater imaginable, including opera, experimental theater and shows on the West End.

Taking advantage of all of the opportunities available to her, Diamond also participated in the university’s New Writer’s Festival, in which select student plays are produced for a public audience. Two of her short play submissions were accepted to be performed among the eight pieces chosen.

“It was thrilling to have actors auditioning for my work and amazing to see them performed in front of me. It was a vote of confidence for my writing, especially as my pieces were so incredibly American, but were still accepted by the British audience.”

However, it was Play Writing with Larry Loebell, Adjunct Professor of Theater Arts and Acting, which really helped Diamond develop her craft. With Loebell’s encouragement, she developed what would eventually become her Senior Capstone Project, “Straight on ’Til Morning: A Peter Pan Story,” which she will present as a staged reading on Monday, April 23, at 8 p.m. in the Castle Dining Room. Now as her adviser on the project, Loebell continues to be supportive and invaluable to the development of Diamond’s script. (Read more about Arcadia’s Senior Capstone Presentations.)

“I think this speaks volumes to the professors’ interest in their students and their progress at Arcadia,” she says. “The great thing about Larry’s teaching is that he makes sure to keep an undertone of reality in his encouragement, reminding me that sometimes what I want in my play might not be the best route to go. I’m free to disagree, but it’s great to have that guidance.”

The best part about being a Theater Arts and Acting major is the studio class format, notes Diamond. Students are either actively practicing their craft or observing their classmates. “It’s one thing to read about acting methods or how modern theatre was performed, but being able to apply it to your own performance helps you understand what’s being taught, as well as expanding your ‘actor’s toolbox,’ as we call it.”

Arcadia’s Theater Arts and Acting curriculum advances students’ understanding and practice in traditional areas of study, including script analysis, play and screenwriting and theater history. However, Diamond notes that one of the program’s greatest strength is its diversity: students pick up a variety of acting styles and approaches by taking courses such as Method Acting, Acting for Film & TV and Stage Combat and Dance. In addition, they can take classes on Audition Techniques and the Business of the Arts, so they know how to conduct themselves in situations outside of the University setting.

“As an actor, all of these classes allow me to be a well-rounded performer, as opposed to one that has one approach to every performance,” she says. “I certainly prefer some things over others, but I know that if I ever need to try a different tactic with a role or a script, I have the resources to do that.”

Photos by Fig Tree Photography