An interview with playwright, Rachel Teagle
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
Rachel is an incredible Minneapolis-based playwright. I have the pleasure of directing two of her plays over the next year. I had a chance to chat with her about Maiden Voyage, a play I commissioned for the Collective Unconscious Performance 2019-2020 season.
To read the interview on Collective Unconscious' website, click here. Or, keep reading below.
On a sunny Saturday at the beginning of June, I sat down at Empire Coffee and Pastry with Maiden Voyage playwright Rachel Teagle to talk about her process and why we need more adventure stories featuring women. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Rachel, you know that this conversation was filled with humor and hope. Rachel is bright. Both her spirit and her mind are big, bold, bursts of light and energy. I wish I could include every inspiring word she shared with me but, instead I’ve attempted to narrow her radiant wisdom into the paragraphs below. The other wonderful thing about this conversation was the fantastic playlist playing at Empire Coffee and Pastry as we spoke. I’ve recreated it and included it here. These feel-good tunes were the perfect background to the morning. I encourage you to listen along as you read. The final track might just be a perfect summary of Rachel’s unique aesthetic. Who is Rachel? SOFIA LINDGREN GALLOWAY: For folks out there who don’t know you, I wanna give them a quick introduction. So, if you had 5 words to describe who you are and what you care about, what would they be? RACHEL TEAGLE: Playwright, storyteller, rogue, brevity, and women. SLG: By rogue, is that, like, DnD rogue? RT: I think more of like, a mischief maker, in terms of being playful. And I think that’s something that’s very important to my work is that there is a bit of a mischievousness to it. I like to invite people in with comedy and then punch them in the face with truth. So, if that’s five words, that’s what they would be. SLG: Hey, this is an interview with a playwright, not a mathematician. So, whatever 5 words means to you is fine. RT: Yeah, language is malleable! Hyphens are important. SLG: Hyphens are important. You have opinions about hyphens. RT: I do actually have really strong opinions about punctuation. I didn’t realize that until I started really working through things and trying to edit and I realized, “Oh no, this comma is really important.” And then, sometimes I’m wrong. An actor will come around and do it completely differently and not listen to my punctuation. And I’m like, “Oh no, actually, you are correct.” And that’s kind-of the beauty of writing for other people. You surprise yourself and [those actors] make you look better. And you know, my favorite thing to do is to write, and listen to people say it, and listen to people make it better. I didn’t get into theatre to do all the work myself, you know? That’s the joy of inviting all these other brains and bodies into the room, they make something bigger than all of us. And right now, I’m really excited to get the chance to tell so many stories. This is a frickin’ cool year. Upcoming projects SLG: So, lets talk about that. What else are you working on right now? RT: We’ve got the Maiden Voyage coming up in June, and actually, right now, Sofia and I are sitting in a coffee shop about to go into auditions for our play with Theatre Pro Rata where, once again, Sofia is directing a play that I have written. It is about cockroaches, and the end of the world, and women’s bodily autonomy. And I’m disappointed that it is so relevant, consistently, but I’m also excited to be telling this story right now. And, on my own, I’m working on developing musical. One of my collaborators from Nautilus is taking one of my children’s scripts and musicalizing it. I’m putting it out there in case anybody wants to work on some children’s musicals, send me some development opportunities! Oh, and I’ve got a piece in the Minnesota Fringe, I’m part Danger Vision Productions, it’s called Visitation, it’s about grieving, and I have a scene in that. They’ve tapped five writers, and they have some filmmakers, and they’re making a whole exploration of grief, and mine is super weird. It involves a large, dressed up lawn goose. So, it’s gonna be a trip. Playwriting and Process SLG: When did you become interested playwrighting? RT: I always liked telling stories; writing things, making things up, doing elaborate parody videos in my English classes. But I walked into college convinced I was going to do film. And it wasn’t until I actually got to a setup that involved some more set dressing, and you looked in a camera and it looked like a dressing room, and then you leaned out and realized, “Oh, these are three coats in an empty room!” and it felt like a trick. And then I would watch a play and someone would lift a box and say, “This is a ship!” and it felt like magic. I realized, I don’t want to play tricks, I want to make magic. So, that meant theatre for me. SLG: Where do you pull inspiration from? Like, for Maiden Voyage, inspiration has come from a lot of strange places. Everything from a Hasidic folk tale to The Odyssey to My Little Pony. Or, for The Ever and After, with Theatre Pro Rata, you’ve got politics and Sci-Fi simultaneously. RT: I feel like, as a writer, you’re always listening. You always have one ear to the ground to see if something is gonna resonate. And when you find two disparate things that spark something, that’s where you go from. So, it’s finding moments that you carry around and then it’s like, a rock tumbler, you let it roll around for a little bit and then you pick it up and go “Oh, this is actually very shiny, and I would like to put it into something.” And I watch a lot of TV, man. I tend to watch a lot of cartoons, partially because I have a three year old, although, I watched a lot of cartoons before that. But, I like the malleability of the universe and the fact that literally anything is possible. And I like when people stretch the form. I don’t do as much reading as I should. But, I tend to pick up a lot of stories that don’t take place in reality, and think that’s where I tend to find some information. And then I read news stories and thing in that tends to click with things in [cartoons] and that’s where the stories end up coming from. Storytelling SLG: What do you think is the benefit of placing contemporary news stories in made-up worlds? RT: It’s a lot easier to listen when you’re able to have some distance. And you’re able to see different things. If I tell you a story that touches on issues but kind-of, goes around this sideways, Twilight Zone back door, then you realize, you can hear the stories differently, and it kind of sneaks up on you. And, you also get to play with monsters. The monsters that we fight every day are exhausting. But when we fight monsters that feel a little bit more like fairy tales, we’re able to fight better in the real world. SLG: What stories are missing on stage? Who do we not see enough of. RT: Women who talk. Non-binary people, at all. I think also, the different kinds of strength is important. You know, finding ways for there to be room for femininity and strength and femininity that’s not just for female people. And, ways to distribute power among folks who don’t look like those in power. I know for me, there’s a caricature of me in my mother’s house where I’m reading a book that says adventure along the side. The artist asked me what I like to do and I said, “read.” So, they said what do you like to read and I said, “Adventure Books!” Those are all books with male protagonists and male stories. And at that point in my life it was really important that I wasn’t like other girls, and there was a time when all the stories I told were about boy people. Looking back, I just want to hug my 12 year old self and say “Girl, you can be you, and you don’t have to escape into male people to have adventures.” But, the more stories that are out there, the less we have to conform to one story or another. SLG: Yeah, I remember, specifically in 5th grade and into middle school, I was really into the Artemis Fowl and Pendragon books which are magical, fantasy, adventure stories with male protagonists. And, the only other kids at my school reading those books were super nerdy, video game playing boys. But, I wasn’t a super nerdy video game playing boy. And, I don’t think I ever read Babysitters' Club, or some of those “teen girl books” and it was really alienating. Like, what stories are for me? I think I found the Chronicles of Narnia came close, because they had more than one protagonist story. RT: Well, I think that notion of splitting the protagonist journey is really rich and interesting because we’re not all gonna be King Arthur. And to pretend that you’re only worthwhile if you’re Kind Arthur, that’s a really upsetting thing to put into people’s hearts. But making sure there are adventures that have cooperation, that have stories you can solve with someone else, and it’s okay to reach out for help, and it’s still a victory if you do it with other people. And that’s part of what we’re doing with Maiden Voyage. We’re trying to find a way to make a new protagonist who can ask for help. SLG: So, why do we tell stories? RT: I think its partially to shape the way you interact with the world and to project a better tomorrow on it. I think telling a story that connects you to your childhood self and all the hope, and the fears, and the joy, and the potential that you had, remind you that you still have potential today. And I’m so excited to play, and to tap into this magical sea voyage with everybody. SLG: Me too.