the flair q+a


Award-winning theater professional, artistic director, actor and Mom, Tara can pretty much do it all. She is the powerful combination of moxie and creativity, all wrapped up into one totally funny, busy and super down to earth lady.

Tell us about your business or specialty.

I am the founder and Artistic Director of Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, a professional theater based in Chicago that is about to enter into it’s 25th season. I am an actor, director, producer and mom. After moving to Chicago in my late 20s with my Actors' Equity card in hand, I found I had trouble breaking into the theater community here. There were only a handful of equity theaters in town, and roles for women, especially younger women, new to the community and asking for an Equity salary, were few. At that point I made the decision that would define my career. I founded Rivendell Theatre Ensemble with the specific goal of expanding the role of women in theater. I knew that society could come to view women differently only if our real struggles and experiences were reflected on stage, not just the two-dimensional versions Hollywood spits out. I also knew that the only way women could be competitive with their male counter-parts was if they had the chance to actually work and develop their craft. But if I am being totally honest – the driving force in launching this company was that I wanted to be in charge of when I was working and more, what stories I was telling. 

How'd you get to where you are now?

On the shoulders of so so many people. In particular, folks within the Chicago community who encouraged me to take matters into my own hands and begin producing new plays that were lifting up women’s voices - which I felt passionately needed to be heard. And then the community of theater artists who founded Rivendell alongside of me inspired me to just keep going with it….

What surprises you in your work?

Learning about other people - diving deep and inhabiting their experiences - has always inspired and fascinated me. Through developing plays, we get to discover a commonality with people who were on the surface seemingly so different. Each new project we launch at Rivendell comes with incredible opportunities to learn about the themes explored in the play. Ranging from sitting alongside these amazing female scientists in a breast cancer research lab to interviewing female soldiers coming back from deployments in Afghanistan to sitting with a pastry chef and learning how to create the perfect buttercream rosette – it’s like a mini-PhD course with every production. 

What drives you crazy?

Donald F**king Trump. Women who don’t support other women. Women -- who when asked how they are -- proceed to tell you in great detail all about their male partner’s recent successes.

Who inspires you? (it can be anybody you know, or don't know)

Hmmm. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Michelle Obama. Penny Marshall. Margaret Atwood. These are a few who immediately come to mind. But some not-quite-as-famous-in-all-circles would be the late theater greats, Martha Lavey, Steppenwolf Theatre’s past Artistic Director for 21 years, and Ruth Maleczech one of the founders of Mabou Mines. Twenty years ago, Martha established the smaller venue at Steppenwolf – The Garage – as a place for fledgling Chicago based ensembles to produce new work and be mentored by the entire Steppenwolf machine. There is no theater community in the world equal to Chicago’s and I know that is in great part to the work Martha did. And Ruth Maleczech, who not only was a brilliant artist, actor, director…but as a master teacher she taught generations of theater artists to step outside their comfort zones, risk complete failure and craft new work from the ground up. I was blessed to have had both of these generous and terrifying women as my personal mentors.

You're a trailblazer - what are some highlights?

Ha! That is not a word I usually use to describe myself. I am really just tenacious as S#@& and when I hear the word “no” I think maybe I just need to…dig in and push harder! 

Any lessons you’ve learned and would like to share?

Creating art requires daydreaming time. This is one I am still working on. I feel guilty about all the things I’m not doing when I sit down and just mull over what about a play moves me or what we need to bring to a project, but that IS in fact a huge part of the work.

Words of wisdom or thoughts?

Go out and continually ask for what you want. Don’t be afraid of getting “NO” as a response. There are tons of other doors to knock on and at some point someone might just say “YES.” 


Tara Mallen is an actor, director, producer and the Artistic Director at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble in Chicago. She was recently on stage in the Midwest premiere of The Cake by Bekah Brunstetter, for which she won a Joseph Jefferson ("Jeff") Award celebrating excellence in Chicago theater. Other stage credits include Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer prize-winning play, Sweat, at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., the world premiere productions of Look, we are breathing, The Firebird’s Take the Field and Rasheeda Speaking at Rivendell, and Steppenwolf’s How Long Will I Cry: Stories of Youth Violence written by Chicago Journalist Miles Harvey. She was part of the ensemble in Rivendell’s World Premiere, Jeff nominated production of The Walls and played Jolene Palmer (inspired by the true-life story of Aileen Wuornos) in Rivendell’s award-winning production of Self Defense, or the Death of Some Salesmen -- both productions part of Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Visiting Theater Initiative. She received a Jeff award for “Supporting Actress” for her portrayal of Gwenyth in WRENS, a Jeff-winning ensemble. She was nominated the following year for “Actress in a Principal Role” for her work in My Simple City.  Screen credits include Empire (Fox), Boss (Starz), Chicago Fire (NBC), Doubt (CBS/Sony Pictures pilot), Controversy (Fox Pilot), Chicago P.D. (NBC), Sense8 (Netflix Original series) and Steven Soderbergh’s film Contagion. Tara co-conceived and directed the critically acclaimed World Premiere of Women At War, a theatrical exploration of women in today’s military that played to sold out houses and tours throughout the mid-west. She also directed the Jeff nominated mid-west premieres of The Electric Baby by Stefanie Zadravec, 26 Miles (in co-production with Teatro Vista), Fighting Words by Sunil Kuruvilla, Psalms of a Questionable Nature by Marisa Wegerzyn and the co-production of Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue with Stageworks in Hudson, New York. Originally from the Hudson Valley, Tara lives in Chicago with her husband Keith Kupferer and daughter Katherine.

(published 2019)