Rebecca Katz Harwood Inspires UMD Students in Dance and Theatre
Recalling her early interest in dance, Rebecca Katz Harwood, an associate professor of Dance & Musical Theatre at UMD, said, “I was literally one of those children who would dance around the living room, so that was my first involvement – putting on my parents’ records and moving instinctively.”
She started formal ballet lessons at age seven and began performing with the Duluth Ballet the next year. She explained, “I think what hooked me about doing ballet was a combination of the work itself and the specialness of performing – the costumes, the lights, the response of an audience. Being involved at the Ballet and in the shows did gave me a sense of belonging to a community, and it gave me a sense of identity.”
While she has had many mentors along the way, her most important ones are her parents. Her late father, Albert Katz, was a professor at UWS, teaching theatre and communications classes. Her mother, Virginia Katz, was an associate professor at UMD working in the Communications Department.
“For both of them, they believed in the power of education to make a difference in their students’ lives, not just by helping them get better jobs but by giving them the tools and the understanding to be better people, and to better serve their communities,” Rebecca stated.
Both of her parents also fostered her and her older sister Rachel’s love of theatre from an early age. Rachel is now a Seattle-based theatre director and dramaturge, who has also worked at UMD as a guest director.
After graduating from Duluth East High School, Rebecca started out at Northwestern University, later transferring to Macalester College and graduating with a BA in Religious Studies and Anthropology.
While living in the Twin Cities, she worked as a performer, teacher, and as a freelancer, and she had a seven-year association as a member of the Ethnic Dance Theatre. She also worked in arts administration, including working for the James Sewell Ballet as their Operations Manager.
When she and her husband-to-be Chris Harwood went to grad school in NYC, she took dance classes, auditioned, and freelanced as an arts administrator and as a dance researcher for a Broadway choreographer, with a few small performing gigs.
Her formal education and dance training came together when she went to grad school from 2003-2005 to earn her MFA in Dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
“I then applied for and got the job at UMD in 2006. It was an unexpected gift to end up back in Duluth. But I was the hybrid they were looking for – I wanted to teach both studio technique classes and academic lecture classes, and I wanted to be creating work in both concert dance and musical theatre,” she said.
At UMD, she currently teaches a variety of both studio and lecture courses in dance and theatre, and also serves as the coordinator of the Dance Minor.
Rebecca has artistic directed thirteen dance concerts, including conceiving the themes for the past four main stage concerts. She has both directed and choreographed Tales From the Bad Years; Go, Dog. Go!; Spring Awakening, and now Spitfire Grill, and has also served as choreographer for seven musicals at UMD.
Beyond UMD, her concert dance work has been presented at various venues in the Twin Cities and in New York. She has also choreographed shows for the Duluth Playhouse, the Black Hills Playhouse in South Dakota, and for theater simple and Taproot Theatre in Seattle.
Rebecca’s husband, Chris Harwood, is the Production Director and one of the on-air hosts on The North 103.3. They have one son, who just started at East High School this fall. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, needlepoint, and reading mysteries.
Excited about her current project at UMD, the musical The Spitfire Grill, she said, “We want to to tell a good story that makes people want to lean in and engage with this world. Spitfire is an open-hearted show, and while it does soften some of the hardest edges of the movie, it doesn’t shy away from some difficult issues.”
She noted, “I hope that people see the humanity in all the characters. I think ultimately my goal is to stay out of the way of the material and let it shine.”
“The themes of the show also resonate for me – it is about second chances and about the value of community. In the show, that community is a small town, but it is really about finding your people,” she noted.
“It is also about appreciating the natural world around you. I think those of us lucky enough to live in Duluth and the greater Twin Ports can definitely relate to that. I am most excited to get to share this beautiful score with the community,” Rebecca said.
She explained that the show has a cast of seven actors, with two understudies, and will include a five-piece band with keyboard, violin, cello, guitar/mandolin, and accordion. Patrick Colvin is the show’s Musical Director.
“There were several reasons why UMD wanted to do this show now – it has been popping up on our season selection lists for years, but we hadn’t found the right slot for it until now. It is more of a chamber musical, small cast and small band. It is great for our students to get the chance to do a more intimate work,” she said.
Rebecca added, “I would like people to know that UMD Theatre is alive and well and we look forward to welcoming everyone to our shows, whether you are a longtime patron or joining us for the first time.
The Spitfire Grill at the Marshall Performing Arts Center on the UMD campus
Oct 6th, 7th | 7:30 PM
Oct 8th | 2:00 PM (ASL Performance)
Oct 11th, 12th, 13th | 7:30 PM
Oct 14th | 2:00 PM & 7:30 PM
For more information on this show and this year’s UMD theater and dance season, go to tickets.umn.edu or call the box office at 218-726-8561.
Dreams and relationships are rekindled in The Spitfire Grill, with James Valcq and Fred Alley’s musical adaptation of the hit 1996 film. Following Percy — a woman with a shadowy past who shows up at Gilead, Wisconsin’s lone diner looking for a job — the show’s folk-inflected songs weave a heartwarming and inspirational tale of redemption, perseverance, and family.
About Sheryl Jensen
A retired educator with the Duluth Public Schools, Sheryl Jensen has been a theater director of over 60 school and community productions. Her production of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew at East High School won the National High School Theater award from the BRAVO television network.
Having written theater, music, dance, and opera reviews for the Duluth News Tribune for many years, she now is the Arts & Entertainment Editor for Destination Duluth.