More Than a Trophy

Eau Claire native wins Tony for drama education

Marie Anthony

ALL THE DRAMA. At the 71st annual Tony Awards on June 11, Eau Claire native and Memorial High School graduate Rachel Harry was named the third recipient of the Excellence in Theatre Education Award.
ALL THE DRAMA. At the 71st annual Tony Awards on June 11, Eau Claire native and Memorial High School graduate Rachel Harry was named the third recipient of the Excellence in Theatre Education Award. (Photo source: Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

What did I get myself into? Suddenly, it hit me – like the Long Island Iced Tea that goes down so smoothly you swear you can handle “just one more” – and I was freaking out. I wasn’t about to chat with some everyday Jane over coffee and scones. I was about to interview someone who won a freaking Tony! This June, Eau Claire native Rachel Harry received a Tony Award for her achievements in drama education. Until moments before dialing her number, I hadn’t fully realized just how awesome this opportunity was, and I found my mind a-flutter trying to piece together all the smartly-worded things I’d say to her...

“We were invited backstage to meet the cast and crew. I chatted with Uma Thurman like it was nothing; like I was her drama teacher!” – Eau Claire native Rachel Harry on her time in New York attending the Tony Awards

“I’ll warn you, I’m a talker,” Rachel said, playfully. “Yeah, I used to be shy. And now, I’m completely full of myself. Now, everything I used to keep inside, I say out loud.” The moment Rachel Harry said those words, I wished more than anything that I was in Hood River, Oregon, chatting face-to-face with her. Winning a Tony hasn’t turned Rachel into some unapproachable goddess. She was easy to talk to. I found her energy, humor, and honesty quite refreshing.

Theater may have changed the way Rachel Harry sees herself, but when it comes to the Tony, she’s most grateful for the opportunities this honor has afforded her family. She had recently returned from her trip to New York City and opened up to me about the first time she took her daughter Tay Lynne and son Duncan to NYC on a shoestring budget. “I’m a single mother, so I didn’t have the option to go all-out the first time,” said Rachel. “This time was completely different! Money was no object.”

The highlight for her was the night she saw Come from Away on Broadway. “Ever since I was a young girl, I’d always dreamed of seeing Broadway and sitting in my favorite seat – it’s what they call the ‘King’s Row’ – seventh row, center,” Rachel told me. “I finally got to do that.” She also got to chat with actress Uma Thurman backstage at after seeing another Broadway production, The Parisian Woman.

  What drew Rachel to teaching? She’s always loved sharing what she knows with people. “I love breaking things down; deconstructing information in a way that makes it understandable. I also love the kids,” she said. “Each one brings their own unique and different perspective.”

I asked Rachel if growing up in Eau Claire has influenced the way she teaches. “When I first started (31 years ago), I was very cautious and careful of my community. Though, I don’t know if that would have been any different if I grew up anywhere else. It’s just who I was.”  Rachel continued to thank her community for all the support they’ve given. When she first came to Hood River to teach, the performing arts program was only one semester long. Because of her tenacity and her community’s support, it has grown into a four-year program for which students can get college credit.

As much as Rachel has impacted her community, she learns just as much from her students every year. “Every class teaches me something different, and every year it’s something new,” she said. This year changed the way Rachel thinks about women’s roles in society – specifically the way they dress. “My students taught me that the way a woman dresses shouldn’t matter. Women should feel empowered to present themselves in whichever way they choose.”

I could write pages upon pages about Rachel Harry. I may have only spoken with her for 30 minutes, but in that time I easily understood why so many describe her as “someone who changes lives.” You deserve this honor, Rachel. You may be enjoying your 15 minutes of fame today, but the impact you’ve made will last forever.