Encore: Rachel Fink
Monday, March 16, 2015
Interviewed by Nirmala Nataraj
Rachel Fink is the director of Berkeley Repertory's School of Theatre, where she has helmed educational programming for the past 14 years. Her penchant for organization, management and community building have led to the creation of programs that serve over 23,000 students across Northern California. Fink's work has generated a number of initiatives, advocacy campaigns, training programs and ongoing staff and audience engagement councils.
| Rachel Fink, arts educator.
How did you get into theatre?
I got into theatre through arts education, serendipitously! I was a really shy kid; I grew up in Ohio, and my parents sent me to theatre camp, and after that they couldn't get me to shut up! I loved the community and I loved the practice of making art. I sang in the youth chorus, did drama and choir in high school, and saved all my money to take classes at the Cleveland Playhouse. I went to college with the intent of being a doctor, but my major drifted to the arts. I knew that while I loved creating theatre, I didn't want my livelihood to depend on acting, so at the tail end of college, I took business courses and interned at the Playhouse. Then I began producing work.
What drew you into arts administration?
I'd been [Berkeley Rep managing director] Susie Medak's intern when I was getting my master's at Yale. When I graduated, Berkeley Rep restructured its education program with a managing director and artistic director model, which seemed like a good springboard to executive director and producer positions. At that time, I was not a trained educator; I came from the world of producing and programming. Now I make sure the team we assemble is balanced. We have working artists who have a real pedagogical expertise, while my job is to manage and be a leader, and to facilitate the creation of great programming that serves our community.
What other roles have you explored over the years?
I've been a general manager, box-office manager, managing director of a small theatre, group sales manager and summer theatre camp counselor. I also did a little bit of directing (which I'm afraid to admit because I wasn't good at it!). In the past couple years, I've served on boards and gotten involved in cultural policy and arts advocacy work. I like to have my fingers in lots of different things.
What do you love most about working in arts education?
The thing I love about Berkeley Rep's programs and really try to maintain is that there are lots of different places of entry for people at different points in their lives; if you want to dabble but don't know how comfortable you are in the spotlight, there's a low-level entry. There are also places to go deeper. I've been at Berkeley Rep long enough to watch people grow up and mature to the extent that I am now hiring employees who started with us as teenagers. I try to foster a strong sense of community and use theatre as a space to learn, take risks, reflect, build relationships and develop a worldview.
What work are you most proud of?
I get a lot of satisfaction and pleasure from working with the next generation of artists and artisans to match their passion with a way they can sustain themselves in their lives. I supervise our fellowship program, and it's very important to me, as I'm very conscious about career development. Working in the arts can be hard, so I like to do as much as possible to prepare our fellows. I also started our nationally recognized engagement initiative, the Teen Council. When we started, Berkeley Rep was not on teenagers' radar. I knew I couldn't develop an ongoing theatre program that wasn't attractive to young people. I began by sitting with a bunch of high schoolers over pizza and asking them what they were interested in. I subsequently developed an afterschool arts-immersion/leadership/audience-development program, which involves about 500 teens every year. Currently, Berkeley Rep produces a one-acts festival with our teens, and we have a teen subscription program. Now we have 13 other theatre companies with their own similar programs; they took this idea and modified it to suit their own community.
Is there a story you can share that sheds light on why you do this work?
One student started with us when he was in fifth grade, and he was bouncing off the walls. He had a very active energy, and teachers were struggling to figure out how to let him be himself without disrupting the room so much. He performed in a couple of our mainstage shows and got more involved in our classes and afterschool programs, and little by little, I watched him grow into himself. He is now training to be a teacher and has worked with us for the past couple summers. I have so many examples like these: students starting theatre companies, getting PhDs and so forth. To hear our students reflect on how their experiences in our program have gotten them to where they are today is incredible.