101 Stories: Paula Rakestraw

By The Children's Theatre

Celebrate TCT’s 101st season as it comes to a close as we applaud and appreciate those who contributed to the organization’s magic throughout our century-long journey.  During 10 weeks of recognition, we honor individuals who have been instrumental in the success of TCT, and who have not only helped TCT grow in mission, but also thrive, thanks to their passion.  It is these people and their moments in our history that shaped TCT to become what it is today. We encourage you to consider giving a gift in their honor to ensure the sustainability of TCT’s mission for the next 100+ years. 

Paula Rakestraw

PAULA RAKESTRAW

The talented Paula Rakestraw, a professional freelance choreographer with a background in collegiate gymnastics, choreographed four TCT MainStage productions including:

  • DISNEY’S THE JUNGLE BOOK KIDS in 2019
  • SUPERMAN in 2018
  • DISNEY AND CAMERON MACKINTOSH’S MARY POPPINS JR. in 2018
  • TARZAN THE STAGE MUSICAL BASED ON THE DISNEY FILM in 2017

Paula has produced, choreographed, and stage directed AWAITED, A CHRISTMAS SHOW, as well as many video and stage productions at Crossroads for the past 11 years. In 2014, she choreographed a music video for singer songwriter Matthew Mayfield with Cincinnati Ballet dancers and also partnered with other artists to create dance inspired video projections for the Cincinnati Opera’s production of FLOWERING TREE in 2011. Paula teaches local workshops and camps inspiring kids to be artists and storytellers.

We asked Ms. Rakestraw about her life and TCT experience.

What sparked your passion for theatre?

“I have always loved storytelling, especially when it intersects with my faith. I enjoy working with all types of creative teams to create experiences where people can have impactful moments that challenge, inspire, or grow them. As a teacher and director, my favorite thing about teaching through storytelling is watching kids open themselves up to the joy of creating and imagination. Watching them connect to a moment, a word, a feeling, that reaches something deep inside of them that they can take to a new level to create even more. Most directors or choreographers come from the world of performing,  but I am behind the scenes only. Once I experienced the magical world of backstage, I fell in love with the challenge of creating something beautiful and inspiring that other people could experience.  Helping children find their place in that magical process is inspiring and joy giving to me.”

What prompted your involvement with TCT?

“Years ago, TCT Producing Artistic Director, Roderick Justice, came to AWAITED, A CHRISTMAS SHOW I co-created that debuted at the Aronoff Center for the Arts after running at Crossroads Church for over a decade. Roderick and I talked often about doing a project together at some point and in 2017, he asked me to choreograph TCT’s production of TARZAN. I immediately fell in love with TCT’s mission and their way of teaching and directing. There was always an understanding that encouragement and kindness led the process, while bringing excellent art to the families of Cincinnati. I was delighted and honored to continue to work on projects with them over the next couple of years.”

Can you share a moment or turning point in your work with TCT that enhanced or changed the program?

“I truly loved the experience of collaborating with Anupa Mirle, the cultural consultant and associate choreographer for DISNEY’S THE JUNGLE BOOK KIDS. Because TCT went the extra step of reaching out to partner with this incredible, passionate artist, I was incredibly fortunate to have spent many hours with her, learning authentic Indian movement that we worked together to incorporate into the choreography of the show. I was proud of the show we created, knowing that we had honored Anupa’s culture and style of dance, while creating a delightful experience for Jungle Book fans.”

Was there a particular situation where you witnessed the TCT mission specifically enhancing growth and development of children’s imagination or creativity?

“I love that suggestions throughout the creative process are encouraged at TCT. They run an ambitious calendar with many shows throughout the year, but they are careful to take the time to develop childrens’ senses of imagination and creativity, both in the rehearsal room and the audience of performances. Allowing a young actor to determine for themselves how a character might feel or respond as well as giving audiences permission to have a variety of feelings or responses to material is an extra step that not all theatre companies might take the time to allow. I think this comes from a deep place of commitment TCT has for never placing a creative product over people. Their shows are excellent, but the process to get there is just as important to them.”

What do you love most or miss most about your work with TCT?

“Without exception, every single person I’ve encountered at TCT pours their life into creating theatre for children and families with equal parts excellent production value and positive messaging. The truly exceptional part of this though, is that they do it while being lights in our community, overflowing with creativity and kindness through every piece of their work and instruction.”

If you were to describe TCT using one word, what would that word be? 

“Encouraging.”

It has been a highlight of my career to have worked with such creative, encouraging, talented people and I’m so grateful our paths crossed!”

Would you honor Paula Rakestraw with a gift to recognize the impact made on TCT?