August 22, 2012

A&E Guide: Spotlight on Rachel Annette Helson

Rachel Annette Helson has a lot of feathers in her cap: NYU Tisch graduate, youngest ever Tony-nominated producer, children’s book author/illustrator. At 23, the Louisville native is already adding line after line to her résumé, with this year making her a Webby Award-nominated screenwriter and an off-Broadway understudy.

Running on Starbucks soy lattes and a never-ending supply of enthusiasm, Helson seems to genuinely relish each opportunity to dive deeper into theater. “I think the more things you do in this industry, the more appreciation you have for how everyone works together as a team,” Helson says. “You see things differently when you’re looking at it from a writing, acting or producing perspective.”

Let’s start with the writing, namely “stalkTALK,” Helson’s acclaimed web series. The show’s concept started with a conversation with a friend, a former child star who had been stalked. “The stalker was really invasive, and I was appalled at some of the stuff this person did,” Helson explains. “Then, I got to thinking, ‘Is there a way to rehabilitate someone like that? A celebrity stalker rehab? That’s kind of funny …’ And thus, ‘stalkTALK’ was born.”

Winner of the New York International Film and Video Festival’s Best Web Series award and nominee for a Best Writing Webby Award, “stalkTALK” follows a crew of celebrity stalkers stuck in court-mandated therapy. Helson co-wrote and co-produced the show with Suzanne Gangursky, while also starring as unibrowed Larry David stalker Florence.

When casting “stalkTALK,” Helson returned to her Louisville roots. Walden Theatre instructor and Louisville Improvisor Alec Volz provides smooth, snarky narration, à la “Arrested Development,” and Walden director and Savage Rose founder J. Barrett Cooper appears in the pilot. Helson speaks enthusiastically about her training at Walden, which she describes as instrumental to her success as an actress.

“Walden gave me a great training foundation,” she says. “I actually emailed Barrett when I got the part of Batina in ‘Bullet for Adolf.’ I was nervous about potentially having to go on with little to no rehearsal, and then I remembered what he used to say to us in class: ‘Listen. Think. React.’ I wrote those words on my script and immediately felt better.”

As for Batina, playing an understudy in “Bullet for Adolf,” an off-Broadway comedy written by Woody Harrelson and Frankie Hyman, marks the latest step in Helson’s blossoming career. “It’s been a very different experience for me,” she says. “The girl I’m understudying is physically very different from me, and her interpretation of Batina is very different from mine. So I bring my Batina to the table, but I can also pull pieces of hers that work well. And Woody is an amazing human and director. It really has been an honor and a pleasure working with him.”

Professionally, it seems the multi-talented 20-something has hit her stride. We don’t think we could put it any better than Helson herself, who recently tweeted, “My life has exploded into a delicious comet of awesomeness.” Well, can’t argue with that.