Rachel Graf Evans (left) is a writer and theatre artist most interested in silenced and forgotten stories. Her Atlanta playwriting credits include: SUIT YOURSELF (Georgia Lawyers for the Arts’ Courtroom Drama CLE Showcase @ Actor’s Expres); INCH BY INCH (Synchronicity Theatre’s Stripped Bare development program); PEACH COBBLER (The Weird Sisters’ Dangerous Women); THE RIGHT KIND OF MARIGOLD (Working Title Playwrights’ 24 Hour Festival); [IF YOU DON’T KNOW] THE PLEDGE (One minute Play Festival @ Actor’s Express); THE HANDMAID RHIANNON; NEWFOUND MASCOT; HER NAME IS HUNTER (Horizon Theatre Apprentice Company Showcase). Rachel currently serves as the Dramatists Guild Young Ambassador for Atlanta, the Alliance Theatre’s Literary Intern, and is a proud member of Working Title Playwrights and the Dramatists Guild. She was a 2016/17 Horizon Theatre Company Playwright Apprentice and received a B. A. in Theatre / Gender, Sexuality, and Femenist Studies, graduating with High Honors.
Tell us a little bit about the play we’ll be seeing this summer!
This is the story of Tess, who quietly crusades to keep it together, working full time as a phlebotomist and caring for her ailing mother Marjorie, who likes to harp on Tess’s dormant dreams of becoming a doctor. Suddenly, her sister Roz shows back up from rehab, pledging high expectations and a clean slate. When stranger William, an echo of their deceased father, arrives in town with a tempting new offer of employment, Tess tries her best to keep everyone from going underwater. Everyone else, anyway.
Where did you get the idea for this play? What made you want to write it?
The idea for this play first came to me as a fixation on the idea of experiencing emotional deja vu with a complete stranger. What sort of circumstances might someone encounter unexpected, inexplicable, magnetic, platonic attraction? I grew up rather nomadically, and as I meet new people, I often find myself startled at how much they are an echo of someone else I know, either in aesthetic or aura. This idea was the basis of Tess and William’s relationship, right from the start.
At the same time, mental health and addiction are in constant conversation in much of my work. As much as one wants to be topical and trendy with one’s writing, I am sobered (if you will) at how recent events, particularly around the opioid crisis, have fueled the need for this play right now. I wanted to bring to light the ways that addiction, mental health, trauma, family – the forces of nurture versus nature – can manifest and interact. And, because I love theatre magic – always have, always will – I set forth to theatricalize mental health in a way that only this medium can. Amidst these very heavy topics, it has been a joy to figure out fantastical ways I could give Tess’s world center stage.
As often happens in my work, this play has become a love letter to people I care deeply about. Dear ones who have prevailed, in spite of their demons. It also seems prudent to mention at this time (no spoilers!), I have a splendid relationship with both of my parents and my siblings. Family, blood and chosen, is another common theme in my work; some of my favorite moments in this piece are between Tess and Roz, amidst the whirlwind of their sisterly banter between confrontation and deflection. Eternal gratitude for my family and their support of, in my mother’s words, my “vivid imagination.”
How did you get into playwriting?
I grew up in the theatre, primarily as a performer, and have been lucky enough to have drama for self-expression and exploration throughout my living memory. I didn’t feel a need to WRITE plays, however, until my first major adolescent heartbreak wherein I found myself at a loss on how to process my confusion. How could this other person have been so BLASÉ about this breakup when I SO CLEARLY thought we were in love?! The solution? Culling through our many emails, MSN Messenger chats, exchanged LiveJournal quizzes, and every other iota of interaction I could find and splicing it all together to make sense of the narrative arc of my heart. Let’s be clear: it was not a GOOD play. But it was the first play.
After that, I made an accidental habit of weaseling my way into writing plays for the final project/presentation/paper of non-theatre classes. (I highly recommend this academic strategy.) For example: while at Quaker boarding school, I wrote a play for an English class elective (“Voices of Gay and Lesbian Liberation;” I had a remarkable curriculum in high school) final exploring gender identity and expression when a male student borrows a female classmate’s skirt and “gets caught.” Or, after researching a rare medical condition for my Gender Studies Honors Project in undergrad, I wrote and composed a musical featuring an ominous Greek Goddess chorus about what it means to be “female bodied” in the face of biological infertility.
The short answer to this is: I love research and I love theatre and playwriting is my way of weaving those loves together, along with a piece of my heart.
Are you working on any new projects at the moment? What’s next for you?
I am in the midst of adapting a one-act play of mine, THE HANDMAID RHIANNON, into a young adult novel. The play was produced as part of the Horizon Theatre Apprentice Company showcase in June 2017 and the characters still want to talk to me. Here to report: writing a novel is very different from writing a play! So many more words required. I read a remarkably amount of YA as a young person, so I’ve set down to write something I’d have wanted to read at 14.
I’m also working on self-producing an album showcasing some of my singer-songwriter portfolio from over the last decade, including selections from the music I’ve written for theatre, in addition to songs probably best classified as Folk Pop.
And, for the theatre, I’m writing a new full-length comedy about the phenomenon known as “pheromone parties” and the quirky characters who may or may not find themselves at one. This is the first time I’ve set out with the intention to write a comedy. Will it work? Well, if you aren’t familiar with the concept of a “pheromone party,” I really must insist you look it up.
Where else can we see your work?
For all things creative, stay tuned at: www.rachelgrafevans.com
To check out more theatre writing: www.newplayexchange.com/users/2207/rachel-graf-evans
If you’re interested in a cappella arrangement, head over to my Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/rachel-graf-evans) and my YouTube page (https://www.youtube.com/c/RachelGrafEvans).
What made you decide to submit your play to the Essential Theatre Playwriting Competition?
The reasons are twofold. I was given excellent advice as an early career playwright: if there’s a theatre maker you admire, find all the places they’ve worked and go check them out. And I have taken that advice to heart. The playwrights who have previously won this contest are writers whose work and careers I greatly admire. Having found myself eligible for this contest, I said: let’s try! And, by golly, it worked! The second reason is: this opportunity is very, very special. A first production is something is coveted and not accomplished lightly. It takes a lot of trust (and even more WORK!) to produce new plays. I’m thrilled to report this will be my first full-length production! It’s exquisite. My enthusiasm cannot be bridled.
What are your thoughts on having your play produced for the first time?
It is exhilarating and petrifying, all at once. I used to think playwriting was a less vulnerable practice than acting. That was wrong. Often when acting, one character carries your whole heart and it is your responsibility to nurture that heart throughout the duration of the story. Make no mistake: that takes work. And then I learned: when you’re the playwright, each of the characters carries a wedge of your heart, because you sliced it up and left it there. At some point you have to give the play away to other people! Along with your fragmented heart! That said, I love theatre. I worship theatre. I honor the tradition of how the same script transforms and recalibrates in every iteration. The playwright must give the play away in order for the play to come to life. I’m ready! No play will never be exactly like it was in my head and that is the joy of the medium. I cannot wait to see what this piece blossoms into. It’s a thrilling thing to be a part of.
How did you find out about Essential and the playwriting competition?
I learned about Essential during my Playwright Apprenticeship at Horizon Theater Company. Upon completing the apprenticeship, I joined Working Title Playwrights which has expanded my knowledge of Essential programming; for that I am so grateful.
Rachel’s play, BUILT TO FLOAT, is a co-winner of the 2018 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award and will premiere as part of the 2018 Essential Theatre Play Festival running this July 27-August 26 at the West End Performing Arts Center.