Rachel Padell has yet to shed the nerves that come with auditioning. Those chattering fears were evident in her first tryout for the Boston Children's Theatre a few years ago, for a performance of Rent.
She was number two out of 60 kids in a large audition filled with older actors – juniors and seniors in high school – who knew each other and seemed to know the ropes. "It was nerve-racking," Rachel said. "It was also terrifying."
But Rachel worked through those jitters and landed a role in the ensemble of that play, the first of five she has done with the 60-year-old theatre, which performs at the Boston Center for the Arts. Rachel is now a sophomore at and a relative veteran of the local acting scene. Next month she will join the cast of Boston Children Theatre's for its five-show performance of To Kill a Mocking Bird.
Opening night, on May 7, will feature a talk by actress Mary Badham, who played Scout in the 1962 film version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee. Rachel said she is excited to be a part of the story's rich history, and that the Children Theatre's verson is a fresh take, the actors playing Badham's and Gregory Peck's roles having developed their own version of the well-known characters.
Rachel and the rest of the cast rehearse for about 15 hours over three evenings during the week and another six hours on Saturday in Boston. She takes the Red Line from Braintree, listening to music on her headphones, reading Harry Potter or finishing up homework. Leading up to the big night, the cast does a "stumble through," running the play most of the way to work out the kinks.
"Even though there's no audience there, you can feel the energy," Rachel said. "Everything has been building and building and it's going to explode on opening night."
That zeal for acting goes way back for Rachel, to when she was 4 and 5 years old, watching and re-watching Disney movies to be able to quote the lines. Soon she was working with local coach Diane Purdy – "She was very strict, but it helped so much." Athletics like softball and soccer began to take second place to her acting and Rachel joined a theatre workshop and began auditioning for roles in plays, movies and commercials.
When she was 7 years old, Rachel scored a slot as an extra in Clint Eastwood's Academy Award-winning film Mystic River. She was in the communion scene. "It was cool," she said. "There was a lot of waiting around."
Rachel also worked as a J.C. Penny model and has had parts in and Boston Actor's Theatre plays. She enjoys drama and musicals equally and eventually plans to apply to colleges that specialize in both.
"I don't know where life is going to take me," Rachel said. "I'm open to anything."
Behind the curtain, on performance nights, you can find Rachel in a tucked away corner, blocking everyone out and listening to music, breathing and focusing on the task at hand. Everyone has their own personal ritual, she says. Some people are chatting and laughing right before they go on stage. For Rachel, the strongest jitters still come before auditions, with one significant change; now she can help the young kids with their own first-day nerves.
"I remember exactly what it was like," she said, "and I remember exactly what they are feeling."