Rachel Geisler is awesome. It’s as simple as that. We first met Rachel during an internship in New York City, and since that summer, she has been doing incredible things. For instance, she played Anna in the Spring Awakening National Tour. Pretty cool, right? She also spent a semester in London traveling and studying. When Rachel isn’t auditioning, she is honing her acting and singing skills and working part-time. We are beyond inspired by Rachel’s self-motivation and determination, and we can’t wait to see her again on-stage and on-screen! Read on for insight into her pre-show rituals, what she does when she forgets a line during a live performance, and a sneak peek into what life was like on the Spring Awakening National Tour.
Name: Rachel Geisler
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts at New York University
How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?
Seizing your youth means taking every opportunity that you might have in your youth that you won’t have when you’re older. Things like taking a job or an internship that doesn’t necessarily meet your desired trajectory just take that experience and to enjoy it. A lot of my friends still get a lot of financial help from their parents, so that frees you up to take a restaurant job and to audition, which is super helpful and something pretty specific to being at this age.
What did you major in at New York University and how did you determine what to study?
I majored in Musical Theater. I grew up in New York City so I was always exposed to theater. My parents took me to shows and to the ballet when I was younger, and that definitely had a huge impact on me. I always loved the arts. I didn’t know that I wanted to perform for a long time. I wasn’t that person. Some of my friends had that moment or the show that they saw that made them want to perform forever, but I think it was a gradual appreciation for me and once I started taking voice lessons, it became more serious for me.
I found a summer camp, Stagedoor Manor, that I went to from when I was 12 to when I was 18. It was a performing arts theater camp and I was inspired by the teachers and performers to pursue theater. When I started at NYU, Musical Theater seemed like the obvious choice for me.
Did you study abroad? What was your big takeaway from studying abroad and do you think it was worth it?
I spent a semester in London. I think that everybody should study abroad at some point. It was an unbelievable experience, not just for theater but for the academics. I decided not to take any theater classes when I was there, but I saw a lot of shows. It gave me a great perspective and refreshed my appreciation for theater, which I needed at the time. Just being able to travel and being in Europe and having access to cheaper flights was great and I got to see a lot of new countries.
What or who inspired you to become a professional actress?
I started at NYU, which can be a very overwhelming place. It’s a big school and there are a lot of things to study. After my freshman year I wasn’t 100% sure if I wanted to stick with theater. And then I got the Spring Awakening National Tour and when I ended up doing that, there was no going back. That experience solidified theater for me.
I interned at Seventeen Magazine the summer before thinking that I was really interested in publishing and the fashion world. I had never really made up my mind as to which direction I wanted to go in, and then after the National Tour, I knew that theater was what I wanted to do.
You played Anna in the Spring Awakening National Tour. Tell us about that experience.
It was the best year of my life thus far. It was so much fun. I was a huge, huge fan of Spring Awakening when it was on Broadway. I saw it about eight or nine times. I was that theater geek who saw it every weekend I could.
I loved being on the Spring Awakening National Tour, I got to see the rest of the country. My family had traveled but we never really traveled within the United States. My mom is from Japan so we were always in Asia or elsewhere, but seeing the United States was a really fun experience. Especially getting to do that with 20 other people around your age and who also love the same thing that you love, it was a really wonderful experience and I grew up a lot on that Tour.
How do you prepare for a National Tour?
You have to be in the best shape you can possibly be in, vocally and making sure you’re taking care of yourself. You’re going from bus to plane to theater, and all of the traveling does take a huge toll on your body. Just going in with an open mind and being open to the new experiences. Take care of yourself but also remember to have fun and take advantage of what I was doing.
How do you stay motivated on-stage night after night of performing?
That’s a tough one. We did 137 performances of Spring Awakening. A lot of tours do upwards of about 600 shows. For Spring Awakening, the whole cast is pretty much on-stage for the entire show. We’re sitting on the side and watching the action happening. It’s easier to stay engaged when you’re on-stage and supporting your fellow actors. You don’t ever want to be that person who is zoning out.
Getting tired does happen and you can get jet-lagged. We were in Colorado and got altitude sickness. There were points in the show where I would make sure to embrace what was happening. Even if I was exhausted and wanted to be done with the performance and go to bed, I would remember that I was on the National Tour of Spring Awakening. I would remind myself that I wanted this for so long and that I needed to enjoy it. That would always bring me back when I got tired.
What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned from being a working actress?
One of the best things that I’ve learned is to be a good person. There are a lot of talented people. You think sometimes that there are some roles that only one person could play. But there were so many girls that could have played Anna in Spring Awakening, so I think the thing that sets you apart is to be a good person.
You have to be the kind of person that the director or casting director would want to spend 12 hours a day in rehearsal with. If you set yourself up with success by being nice and professional and being open and kind, that will set you apart from the millions of other people trying to act and land roles. Some of them might have an attitude problem or take the opportunities for granted and be a diva about it. I got really lucky with Spring Awakening because everybody was young and didn’t have much of an ego, but that’s not necessarily the case with other circumstances. Keep reminding yourself that you want to be the person that other people want to work with.
How do you overcome self-doubt or stage fright?
If you’re not scared there’s something wrong. It’s just a matter of learning how to channel the self-doubt and stage fright. I always get nervous. I’m always scared. I love performing but I’m not the best with public speaking. It’s just different ways of approaching different performances or exhibition.
With theater, it’s just doing the most work you could possibly do so you can do the best show no matter what. If something goes wrong, you should know the character and the story. If someone drops a line, you’ll know how to pick it up and keep the story moving. That is completely necessary in theater. People forget lines all the time. We did 137 shows and if you lose focus for one second, a line can leave you so you have to trust that the rest of the people you’re working with can handle the situation.
Have you ever forgotten a line and what are you thinking in that moment?
All the time! I didn’t have that many lines in Spring Awakening. There was one show where there was a horrible smell on-stage and I kind of choked a little bit, so everyone on stage with me thought I forgot my line because I couldn’t get my words out. It was horrible. But then someone was on it with the next line and you bring yourself back to it. If you’re in character and you know what your character wants to say, it might not be the exact line but something along those lines. Then you’ll get a note from your Stage Manager telling you that what you said wasn’t the actual line, and you’re like, yes, I know. I forgot. The next time you’ll get it right.
Do you have any pre-show rituals to get into character?
Some people go crazy with their pre-show rituals. I am really into music so if it’s a first night of a show, I try to figure out the right playlist that gets me in the state-of-mind. For Spring Awakening, that was more pump-up music because that show was a lot of energy. For other things it could be mellower. I love to listen to music.
I also try to go around to everyone who I’m in the show with and just say “hey.” When you’re on tour, you get to the theater and everyone goes to their dressing rooms and you don’t see each other until you’re on-stage. I just love to touch base and catch up really quickly and say “hi.”
What advice do you have for youth who want to be professional actors/actresses?
Do it. There are so many people who will tell you so many different things about how hard it is, and it’s true, it’s not easy. There are definitely waves of success and sometimes you think you’re perfect for something and it doesn’t work out – maybe you’re too tall or you don’t fit into the costume of the previous person who played the role.
I’m a huge believer that you have to be a smart person to be a smart actor. I think education is insanely important and not just training. Training in the craft of acting is hugely important, but I think that learning the history of what you’re doing and keeping yourself informed on current events and being well-read just makes you a better actor. If you have things that are not related to theater or drama, that’s great because most of the time you’re playing real people and it helps to have those experiences.
That’s one of the reasons why I chose NYU – they have a huge emphasis on the academic side of theater and making sure you’re a well-rounded person as well as a well-rounded actor.
What does a day in your life look like?
It’s so different. I live with two people who have pretty standard schedules and mine is all over the place. If I have an audition, which hopefully I do, I like to go to the gym to wake my body up and do yoga. Sit in the steam room for a little bit. After an audition, I call my mom and talk to her for a little bit. I work at a restaurant so I’m there three or four times a week. That’s part of my day. Because I went to school in New York, I still have use of the facilities so if I have time, I’ll practice monologues and sing to help me feel connected with my craft. When you’re waitressing and auditioning constantly, you start to feel like you’re this product and you have to reconnect with your craft and what you worked really hard to do. I try to do that as often as possible.
What activities were you involved in throughout high school? Were there any experiences that were most memorable or life changing?
I loved high school. I did a little bit of everything in high school. I played basketball, did yearbook, and student government. I went to a really small private school in New York so everybody was involved in everything, which was great. I went to a school with somewhat of an art scene and they definitely appreciated the arts a lot.
One of my teachers, Margie Duffield, was a huge influence on me. I always loved singing and dancing and she was the one who pushed me to do more acting, and she introduced me to a lot of the techniques that I use now and when I was in school. That was a really big thing for me and having that influence who made me realize that I was enough and I could do more than musical theater.
What has your experience been like going to college in New York City?
I loved it. Clearly, I never left! It can be hard because sometimes the city is very overwhelming. My brother is now at the University of Maryland and I hear all these fun stories about what they do on-campus and all these things that are so foreign to me. One of the things about being in New York is that I was very involved with the theater community. After I came back from Spring Awakening, I was able to continue auditioning and working and do readings and workshops. Things that people not in the city don’t necessarily get to do.
I’m also a huge family person and my family lives here and at the time my younger brother was here, so it was important for me to be in New York. I thought NYU was the best fit for me so it all worked out. If I hadn’t been in New York, I wouldn’t have been able to audition for Spring Awakening, and I wouldn’t have had that experience. Everything happens for a reason.
What motivates you in your everyday life?
If you want to pursue theater, you have to keep yourself motivated. You won’t have someone everyday telling you “Great job!” Unless you’re doing a show you don’t really get that reinforcement. You have to take every little victory that you can get. If you’re standing in a studio and you hit a note better than you felt like you have a week ago, take that victory. That’s a step towards what you want to be doing.
I’ll go take a dance class and motivate myself to do what I want to be doing. When you’re not in school, there’s no one telling you that you have to go to this dance class or read this play. I try to read as many plays as I can. One of my friends is actually doing something that I admire – she’s reading a new play every day. Before she goes to bed, she reads a new play.
Who is your role model?
My mom. It’s so cliché it almost pains me to say it. She studied art in college and didn’t necessarily end up pursuing it for the rest of her life, but she has such an appreciation for it and is so supportive of me. She’s one of those people whose words just make sense to me. She’ll just tell me what I was thinking – who knows you better than your mom?
There are definitely people whose careers I admire, but I don’t know them on a personal level so I can’t really call them a role model.
What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
Calm down. Being in high school in general, especially with theater, it seems like so much focus on doing an exact thing a certain way to get into college. It just seems like that is your goal – to get into college. I don’t know anybody who didn’t figure it out for themselves. They might not have gone to the college they wanted to go to, or maybe they spent a semester somewhere and worked really hard and transferred, but it’s not the end all be all. People change their majors and idea of what they want to do all the time.
In high school, you’re thinking you have to get into a specific school for a certain program. I would tell myself to calm down and that everything will work itself out. Enjoy high school because it’s such a weird time where you’re old enough to start having fun but you’re still living with your parents and getting all the benefits of that. Enjoy it and don’t think too far ahead of yourself.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully a show! I went back to school after Spring Awakening and I put all of my focus on that because graduating was really important to me. I graduated this past May and worked a little bit this summer on a few projects. My friends have started writing plays and directing and choreographing, so I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of their work. You don’t get paid or anything, but collaborating is so fun.