The musical Hadestown is a tour de force led by two women: Anaïs Mitchell, the writer, and Rachel Chavkin, the director. Anaïs Mitchell is a singer-songwriter who wrote a folk opera called Hadestown in 2006, released it as a concept album in 2010, and after a long, winding road, brought the show to Broadway in April 2019. Mitchell teamed up with Rachel Chavkin in 2013, and since then, the duo — and Hadestown — has been unstoppable.
Hadestown is the musical adaption of two Greek myths: the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and Hades and Persephone. It’s narrated by Hermes, and let me just let Sara Holdren at Vulture describe it for you: “In this version of the myth — set in a timeless present somewhere between the Dust Bowl and the end times — Orpheus is a dreamy poet working on a song that ‘brings the world back into tune’ (he and Roger-from-Rent would get along). In the meantime, he’s wiping tables in a dive bar located somewhere ‘on the road to hell.’ Persephone (the magnificent Amber Gray) comes to town for six months every year, as per her agreement with her husband Hades (the human thunder sheet Patrick Page), and when she does, she brings the party. But the winters seem longer, colder, and harder every year, and it’s during one of these that Eurydice — young and semi-feral and not entirely trusting of Orpheus’s ability to fill their bellies with only his dreams and his lyre — gives up the ghost. In the economically depressed world of Hadestown, Eurydice doesn’t get bitten by a snake; instead, she makes a deal with the devil.”
1. Of the new musicals that debuted on Broadway this season, Chavkin is the only female director. (Of the 36 musicals still currently on Broadway, she’s one of three female directors. The other two? Diane Paulus, who directed Waitress, and Julie Taymor, who helmed The Lion King.)
2. There’s a “misconception that directing on Broadway is a prerequisite for directing on Broadway, and that it is overtly damaging to women and artists of color,” Chavkin explained. “I had the great fortune to see the opening of What the Constitution Means to Me, and I saw it downtown and I found it even more striking uptown. There’s a moment where [Heidi Schreck] plays that beautiful RBG quote of, ‘People ask when will it be enough,’ referring to progress of gender diversity on the supreme court and she says, ‘and my answer is ‘when there are nine.” I think there will be progress when there’s at least one, if not ten years to rival the 100, when every director is a female or person of color. Then we’ll be ready for a year where you get [to] ask a white man how it feels to be the only white man to be directing on Broadway.”
3. She was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, to a Jewish family; her parents are both civil rights lawyers, which means she “grew up with huge politics in the house, and the huge belief that art is the agent for social change.”
4. She quit Hebrew School at age 12, explaining, “They were saying racist things, and I hated being with them. I came home and told my parents, and they let me drop out.”
5. Chavkin thinks of herself as “culturally Jewish,” telling the Forward, “For me being culturally Jewish includes the value of argument and dialectic.”
7. Her motto for directing? “Is my body moved, on a cellular level, by what I’m watching? If not, then I keep pushing.”
8. What she dislikes onstage? “A lot of middle- or upper-class white people talking about their problems without acknowledgment of their privilege or context in the wider world.”
9. “I wanted to be many things growing up, but it wasn’t until applying to college that I was suddenly like, ‘Oh, I want to apply for theater,'” Chavkin explained. She attended NYU, then Columbia.
10. In 2016, she directed Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1912 — she was nominated for a Tony for Best Direction of a Musical, and won an Obie Award, Elliot Norton Award, Drama Desk Award, and many many more for Best Director.
11. Her Instagram is full of amazing behind-the-scenes shots:
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Openings are overwhelming. So snuck in a picture at end of my fave night which is final preview, watching in back with core team of @tamilla_woodard @advanced_beginner @katierosierose & @anaismitchell as our cast slayed it onstage. In love with @hadestown – the poetry, the company, the politics, the heart. Thank you Anaïs & family (genetic and chosen). Let’s HIT IT.
Also of family seders:
12. “I love mess, mistakes, the fragility of live performance,” Chavkin told The New York Times in January 2013. “I try to build productions that feel on the edge of spiraling into chaos at any moment, though in fact my work is profoundly controlled.”
13. She founded TEAM, “a Brooklyn-based ensemble dedicated to creating new work about the experience of living in America today,” in 2004.
14. On Hadestown, Chavkin said, “This show remains the most delicate and the hardest theatre I’ve ever worked on.”
15. She has a tattoo on her right arm that says “we’re just going to go for a walk,” which is advice she gave to an actor in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. On her left arm is “the image of a Matisse cutout called The Lyre, depicting the stringed instrument that symbolizes Orpheus.”
16. She’s currently pregnant, carrying a child for her friends (a gay couple living in Texas).
17. Her upcoming projects include directing a Moby Dick musical (written by her Great Comet collaborator Dave Malloy), directing a musical called Lempicka, and directing a musical she also wrote called “Annie Salem: An American Tale.”
Rachel Chavkin will direct the musical adaptation of Annie Salem: An American Tale, FOR WHICH SHE ALSO WROTE THE BOOK. So it seems that today, as in most days, the women of the American theater are trying to kill me. pic.twitter.com/7X5JIZd7aI
— Casey Mink (@Casey_Mink) April 22, 2019
18. One last Rachel Chavkin quote: “My fear is that my tombstone will say ‘She was busy.’ I love being busy, but I hope that’s the least interesting part of me. It gets remarked on a lot, and I wonder whether men hear that as much.”
Bonus: she got nominated for a Tony for Hadestown!