Chavkin, who lives in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights with husband Jake Heinrichs, a theatrical lighting designer, acted throughout her college years at New York University. She bailed on acting as a career after her first audition, which she found unnerving. Later, with six friends she met while attending NYU as an undergrad and then a graduate student, she founded the TEAM, a Brooklyn collective that has created 120 theater works that are performed worldwide.
Heinrichs is part of the TEAM troupe, as are her close friends Jake Margolin and Nick Vaughan, whose baby she carried as a surrogate last year. Chavkin wanted to experience pregnancy, knew the couple wanted to be parents and was unsure when she and her husband wanted to have a child. The pregnancy was “a joy” and “a profound gift,” she says, adding that she plans to be a “mother-like aunt” to the child.
Before her Broadway success, Chavkin had earned praise for years for her staging of off-Broadway and regional theater productions, winning Off-Broadway Theater Awards (or Obies) and honors from Drama Desk critics. She also won a Smithsonian magazine American Ingenuity Award. New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley called her “a miracle worker.”
Chavkin returned home to direct the premiere of Sarah Gancher’s I’ll Get You Back Again in 2017 at Round House Theatre in Bethesda. She came to the attention of Round House Artistic Director Ryan Rilette when he saw Great Comet in its early off-Broadway incarnation and attended a reading of a play that Chavkin directed in Chicago.
“What I love about all of Rachel’s work is that she solicits incredibly honest and deep emotional work from her actors while also embracing theatricality and spectacle,” Rilette says. “No one does that better than her.”
In demand before she received her Tony, Chavkin has been flooded with new projects. Among them, she’s working on a Moby Dick musical, a project based on Gone with the Wind, and a musical about Tamara de Lempicka, a bisexual Polish emigre portraitist. And she wants to create a TV series based on her stepfather Dan Hawkins’ experiences with Volunteers in Service to America, focusing on the founding of community health centers and “renegades working against the system for change.”
Chavkin isn’t worried about taking on such a bureaucratic topic; after all, she brought Tolstoy’s War and Peace to life in Great Comet. “You have to be all in as a director,” she explains. “The great literature moves me and I want to bring all of its wild chaos to the stage.”