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As a new assistant professor in ASU's School of Music, Dance and Theatre, Rachel Finley hopes to increase the educational experiences of her students and to help them find their own voices.
“During my 20 years in the field, starting from my teen years and continuing into higher education, I never once had an instructor who shared my racial identity,” Finley said. “I strongly believe that having instructors of varied racial backgrounds enhances everyone in the room’s educational experience. So I decided to become what I did not see.”
Finley, an award-winning spoken word artist, actor, director, playwright and voice and dialect coach, is teaching Acting Introduction and Acting I Fundamentals, both courses that explore the basic principles of acting, offer an opportunity to gain exposure to the art of acting from the performer’s perspective and look at how acting techniques can be useful even for those who choose not to become performers.
“We are thrilled to have attracted an artist of Rachel Finley’s caliber to our theater program,” said Heather Landes, director of the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “Finley’s wealth of diverse professional experiences, breadth of knowledge in acting methodologies, embodied approach to the craft and research interests in non-Eurocentric methodologies and African diasporic dialects both complement and enhance the theater offerings available to our students.”
Finley said she is excited to have ASU’s support in furthering her research on African diasporic dialects as well as performance practices, techniques and philosophies originating on the continent, and she said she is looking forward to developing courses that will bring this perspective on the art form to students.
“During my visit to ASU, I was very impressed by the emphasis placed on research, continued practice in the field and artistic growth as a means of enhancing the educational experiences of the students,” she said. “I have worked with institutions with massive budgets, and tiny theaters getting by on a hope and a prayer. Regardless of the budget, connection to the community is the driving force. I love creating self-generated work and helping other artists develop their own voices. This is what drove me to become a certified Fitzmaurice Voicework teacher and experienced Knight Thompson Speechwork teacher. I have a passion for detailed and respectful character accent work because it allows often marginalized and stereotyped communities to see more honest reflections of themselves.”
With a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Carnegie Mellon University and a Master of Fine Arts from Florida Atlantic University, Finley’s professional directing career began in 2006 with Alliance Theatre Lab's production of Lee Blessing’s “Down the Road.” Since then, she has directed numerous productions both on stage and on camera, including her most recent productions “Venus” by Suzan-Lori Parks at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf” by Ntozake Shange at the Pompano Beach Cultural Arts Center, and the pilot episode of “The Jaxons,” a family-friendly sitcom produced by Pinnacle Productions.
Finley continues to create new works. Her most recent one-woman performance piece, “American Bullet,” funded in part and developed in collaboration with GableStage, was released Sept. 4 on their digital platforms as part of the Engage @ Gablestage program.
Since the start of the pandemic, Finley has remained active, performing in several online “staged” readings, including Play Development Project’s "Touch the Moon" by Arianna Rose (appearing as Becca), and Mad Cow Theatre’s Science Play Festival in works by several playwrights (appearing as The Griot and Jen), among others. She has also directed “Judge Mablean Said” by Darius Daughtry via Zoom for New City Players. As a founding member of the poetry performance troupe Chaos Theory, Finley co-wrote “Unbroken,” the group’s full-length performance piece, which premiered at Mainstage Playhouse in 2016.