Photo credit: Annie Leibovitz
Born in Paris of Russian parents, Rosenthal's family fled Europe during WWII to New York where she graduated from the high school of Music and Art and became a U.S. citizen. She studied art, theatre and dance in Paris and N.Y. after the war with such teachers as Hans Hoffmann, Merce Cunningham, Erwin Piscator and Jean-Louis Barrault.
She moved to California in 1955 where she created the experimental Instant Theatre, performing in and guiding it for ten years. She was a leading figure in the L.A. Women's Art Movement in the 1970's, co-founding WomanSpace, among other projects.
During that period, her focus split between the performing and visual art world, she created and exhibited her ceramic sculptures. Since 1975, Rosenthal has focused primarily on creating new works for the theatre, writing, performing and teaching.
Rosenthal has performed at over a hundred venues including: documenta 8/Kassel-West Germany; The Festival de Theatre des Ameriques/Montreal-Canada; the Kaaitheater/ Brussels; Festival Internacional de Teatro/Granada-Spain; the Theatre Festival/Zagreb-Yugoslavia; U.S Time Festival/Ghent-Belgium; The Helsinki Festival/Helsinki-Finland; The Internationals Sommer Theater Festival/Hamburg-Germany; I.C.A./London; The Performance Space/Sydney-Australia; The Kitchen, Dance Theatre Workshop and Serious Fun! (Lincoln Center) in New York City; the L.A. Festival (1987, 1990) Japan America Theatre, and Museum Of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles; Jacob's Pillow Splash Festival/Lee, MA; the Kala Institute/ Berkeley, CA and the Center for Performance Research, Aberystwyth, WALES.
In 1990, Ms. Rosenthal premiered Pangaean Dreams at The Santa Monica Museum Of Art for The L.A. Festival. In 1992 filename: FUTURFAX was commissioned by the Whitney Museum in New York. In 1994 she premiered her 56-performer piece Zone at the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts Wadsworth Theater. Between 1994 - 97, with her newly formed Company; she revived her acclaimed Instant Theatre of the 50’s & 60’s as TOHUBOHU! And went on to collaboratively create DBDBDB-d: An Evening (1994), TOHUBOHU! (1995-97), Meditation on the Life and Death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and Timepiece (1996), The Swans and The Unexpurgated Virgin (1997).
She has toured extensively in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia. Rosenthal has taught classes and workshops in performance since 1979, in her LA studio as well as around North America and Europe.
Rosenthal has lectured at Carnegie-Mellon University's Robert Lepper Distinguished Lecture in Creative Inquiry series, as a lecturer/presenter at the first Performance, Culture and Pedagogy Conference at Penn. State (1996). In addition to personal appearances as performer, panelist and lecturer, Rosenthal has been a visiting artist at such institutions as The Art Institute of Chicago, Otis/Parsons, New York University, University of California (UC) Los Angeles, UC Irvine, University of Redlands, UC Santa Barbara, California (Cal) Institute of the Arts, Cal. State University Long Beach, Cal. State Los Angeles and at the Naropa, Esalen, Omega Institutes and the Institute for Studies in the Arts, Tempe AZ.
Grants received include: City of L.A. Cultural Affairs Department (1989-1998, 2000), NEA Solo Performer Fellow (1983, 1990, 1993, 1994), The NEA Touring and Presenting Grant (2000), NEA Interarts (1992), J. Paul Getty Fellow (1990), five USIA travel grants (1987-1993), Art Matters (1988-1990), Foundation for Contemporary Performing Arts, Inc. (1988-1990), The Rockefeller Foundation MAP (1993), The J. Paul Getty Trust Fund for the Visual Arts (1995), The Tides Foundation (1988-91), California Arts Council Fellow (1988), National State County Partnership (1989,1991,1993-97), The ESRR Vision Trust (1996-1997) and numerous California Arts Council and LA County Arts Commission grants.
Awards include: the Vesta Award (1983), the OBIE Award (1989), the Artcore Award (1991), the College Art Association of America Artist Award (1991), the Women's Caucus for Art Honor Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts (1994) and The Fresno Art Museum's Distinguished Artist Award (1994). Artist Robert Rauschenberg honored her in a suite of prints entitled Tribute 21(1994) as the representative for Theatre in a list including Art, Music, Civil Rights, Space & Ecology. In 1995, she received The Ark Trust's Genesis Award for spotlighting animal rights issues with "courage, creativity and integrity". In 1996, she received a Certificate of Commendation as well as a Certificate of Appreciation both from the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department. In 1997, she received the LA WEEKLY Theater Career Achievement Award. In 1999, Rosenthal received an Honorary Doctorate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 2000 she was honored by the City of Los Angeles as “a Living Cultural Treasure of Los Angeles” and, in 2001, was the recipient of the Award of Merit for Achievement in the Performing Arts from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP). Retired from the stage in 2000, Rosenthal resumed a long dormant career in visual art and is currently working in oil and watercolor. In addition to her work in the visual arts, Rosenthal is Artistic Director of a new ensemble of performers who present evenings of Total Improvisation one weekend a month in her studio space, along with guest artists from the world of visual art and music.
Rosenthal has contributed work to Santa Monica Museum of Contemporary Arts show Incognito for the past three years. She participated in Perspectives/MOCA Exhibition 2006 offering a lecture on Robert Rauschenberg's Combines. Recent exhibitions include "Los Angeles 1955-1975" at the Pompidou Center in Paris, France, The Fresno Museum of Art's "Distinguished Women Artists of California", "Multiple Vantage Points: Southern California Women Artists 1980-2006' at Barnsdall Gallery, "Women Artists, Then and Now" at Track 16 Gallery, Bergamot Art Center "Self Perceptions", at Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, and "The Feminist Art Project-How Women Created Post-Modernism 1970-1975" at Rutgers University. In 2009 she presented the Artist Keynote address at the University of Oregon’s Earth Matters On Stage conference.
Rosenthal created Soldier of Fortune, (1981) a limited edition artist book with photos by Daniel J. Martinez, Nihon Journal (2002) a limited edition folio of prints and haiku-like observations of her time in Japan exhibited at Grand Central Art Station in Santa Ana California. Rosenthal's book Tatti Wattles: A Love Story which features her original, full color illustrations, published by Smart Art Press, Art + Performance: Rachel Rosenthal, a monograph of her life's work by John Hopkins University Press and Rachel’s Brain and Other Storms, an anthology of 13 performance texts, by Continuum Press are all currently available. Rosenthal’s book on her teaching methods The DbD Experience (Chance Knows What It’s Doing) was published by Routledge in October 2009.
Rosenthal's work centered around the issue of humanity's place on the planet. She was an animal rights activist, a vegetarian, and companion to an outstanding theater dog, Fanny (and dozens more over her lifetime). Rachel Rosenthal passed away May 10, 2015, at the age of 88. Her loss is an immense chasm in the lives of her friends and company. But we move forward, always, honoring her legacy.