The Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca just opened its 26th season. It’s a season that serves as a farewell to the company’s artist director. Rachel Lampert’s journey to the Kitchen Theatre Company didn’t begin in Ithaca. In fact, it didn’t begin with the theatre at all.
“When I was six years old, if you want to go that far back, and aunt of mine who had been in the Yiddish Theatre and also an actress on Broadway, a comedian, took me to see the Royal Ballet starring Margot Fonteyn in Sleeping Beauty, and I was six and I said that’s what I want to do.”
And, that’s just what she did. Through college and on into the beginning of her professional career. Lampert had her own dance company. She also appeared in the 1968 Broadway revival of West Side Story. Lampert choreographed and eventually directed some musical theatre and some straight plays as well. It was all part of exploring the boundaries of her own art.
“Balanchine said something wonderful. He said, ‘There are no uncles in dance.’ Because you can’t actually show that relationship without words because if it’s an older man and a younger man, well it could be a father and son, but you’re not going to get to an uncle and a nephew. And, I wanted to make dances that had people with real characters and wasn’t just generally, oh, two people who love each other or two people who don’t get along. I wanted to be able to say more about it.”
Lampert is from Brooklyn and New York City was fertile ground for her work. But, her husband accepted a position in Ithaca. After two years Lampert joined him. She guest directed at the Hangar Theatre, but settled in at the Kitchen Theatre Company where she has served as artistic director for the past 20 years.
At then end of a 20-year run, it’s inevitable to ask the question, “Of what are you most proud,” and I did ask that question. Lampert laughed and said, surviving, which is a good answer in an increasingly challenging environment for any arts organization. But, then she went on.
“The way that I think the theatre has survived is a combination of something that I’ve learned, which is how to listen to my own heart, my own taste, the things that excite me artistically, and really listen to the people who are coming to the theatre and hear what they’re responding to. And, sometimes when I hear what they’re responding to I think, oh, I better shake you up a little bit because we’re getting lazy here. And sometimes what they’re responding to, I say, oh no, don’t tell me that you don’t want to see that play. I want you to see that play. And, sometimes I’ll hear about a play from an audience member that they saw in London, they saw in Chicago. They’ll get me the script or I’ll go pursue the script and I produce those plays, too.”
The current season of The Kitchen Theatre Company began, in Lampert’s own words, with a bang.
“Well, we’re starting with a bang, a wild crazy play called Hand to God. I’ve joked with a couple of artistic director friends, well, it’s my last season and we’re going to do Hand to God. This play was on Broadway, it’s a very, very outrageous play. It’s very potty mouthed. It’s about a group of people who are in a church that have a puppet club and they use the puppet club to tell Bible stories, but one of the puppets gets possessed by the Devil, or at least we think that’s what’s happening in the play. And, it really entices and seduces the young man whose puppet it is to do things he would never ever do. On the surface of it, it’s hilarious and it’s a send up of everything, religion, love, loss, being a teenager, being a Mom, being a son, but on a deeper level I think it tells us that sometimes we need something to allow us to say who we really are.”
Lampert says she is ready for retirement. She welcomes the opportunity to travel around the country, visit friends, and see the creative work they’re doing. She definitely looks forward to having more time for writing. And, there’s bluegrass fiddle to be played. That’s something Lampert has taken up quite recently.
“There’s nothing like learning a brand new thing when you’re in your 60s. It’s just he greatest thing in the world to try something you’ve never done before with no real reason, just for yourself. So, I know I’m going to be playing the fiddle and maybe, I’m not going to like make a band, but maybe I’ll be able to go to those fiddle, bluegrass festivals and sit in the slow jam tent and play Turkey in the Straw very slowly.”
The Kitchen Theatre Company’s 26th season is underway now with Hand to God, which runs through September 25th. Lampert’s own play Precious Nonsense opens next on October 16th.