Our Associate Artistic Director Sofia Lindgren Galloway writes our newest blog post:
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.
Playwright Rachel Teagle
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.
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.
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.
6/5/2019 0 Comments
Six years ago, I had just wrapped up my MFA degree at the University of Iowa. Upon moving back to Minneapolis, I was quickly snatched up to teach on the faculty of a local university theatre program. During my summer orientation, the chair of the theatre program introduced me to four students who were entering the program that coming fall. One of those students turned out to be Sarah Modena! Immediately, Sarah and I clicked, and in the two years that I was on faculty, we collaborated on multiple productions and projects. I still remember the day that Sarah came in to audition for my 2014 production of Rat’s Tales. It was here that Sarah sang for me for the first time, and I still remember the chills-up-my-spine-feeling and just being completely gobsmacked by her pure, gorgeous singing voice. When I founded Collective Unconscious, I knew that I wanted Sarah involved in our work, and I’ve enjoyed the evolution of our professional collaboration. With each new Collective Unconscious production, I’ve tried to find new ways to continually challenge Sarah. With our fall production of Into the Darkness, Sarah will be taking on multiple new roles--singing, playing the piano, and music directing. Earlier this week, I sat down with Sarah to chat about her new roles for this production, and the process of workshopping the songs with composer-lyricist Dan Dukich this past May. Here is an excerpt from our conversation together...
DAVID HANZAL: Can you tell me about the first time that you heard music that deeply affected you?
SARAH MODENA: I heard music a lot in church growing up. It was the same kind of sound all of the time, but it was really pretty. The first time, though, that music really affected me was watching The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky’s music was so dramatic and conveyed so many emotions--I didn't realize that instruments could sound like that!
DH: When did you start making music yourself?
SM: There are lots of videos of me as a little kid constantly banging on the piano and singing. My parents had me start taking piano lessons when I was six, and I kept on studying through high school. Growing up, I also studied viola, guitar, hand bells, and organ. Church was also a big influence and something that I was really highly involved in all through high school. I was in church choir all growing up.
DH: When did you start studying voice?
SM: When I was fifteen, I began attending North Hennepin Community College and I auditioned for chamber choir. I don’t think my voice was well developed or particularly good, but Karla Miller [the director] liked me and she could tell I had an ear for music and harmonies. From then on, I started taking other voice classes and acting in musicals. Eventually, I transferred to Minnesota State University Moorhead for a year. It was there that my teachers started talking to me about pursuing operatic training, due to the quality and color of my voice. They told me that I needed to really kick it into gear and get into a conservatory before I got too old. Even though opera might have been something I could have been really successful at, I was more passionate about theatre so I didn’t pursue opera beyond a few years of private voice lessons with Judy Bender.
DH: You’ve performed in every Collective Unconscious production since our inception. Into the Darkness will be unique in that for the first time you won’t be playing a character onstage, and instead you’ll be wearing several other hats--singer, pianist, and music director. In these new roles, what has been the biggest challenge so far?
SM: Learning--and helping notate--Dan [Dukich]’s songs. I love Dan’s songs--they are poetic and ethereal, and the melodies are soaring and beautiful. But while Dan’s music is really beautiful, it’s also really hard. He doesn’t take shortcuts or write in easy keys There are lots of sudden key changes and time signature changes, as well as vocal harmonies that you can’t learn by ear.
DH: Dan is a very experienced singer-songwriter and sound designer, but I believe Into the Darkness is the first time that other people are singing and playing his music without him. Because of this, we had to spend time notating everything for you and the other musicians. I noticed that during the May workshop that you worked very closely with Dan in notating the vocal music, as well as the piano accompaniment. What was that process like for you?
SM: Initially, I thought I could just listen to Dan’s demo recordings and that I’d be able to pick it up by ear from the basic chord structure. It wasn’t like that at all because his music is very specific and complicated. It turned out that we actually had to notate every single note, and we had to painstakingly go measure by measure to make sure it was exactly correct. Dan had partially notated some of the songs in a way that made sense to him, but he didn’t always know how to put his vision on to the paper--but he always knew what he wanted it to sound like. I had to fill in the rhythms for him, which is hard when the time signature is constantly changing. During the workshop, we worked hand in hand--I would often sing or play options, and he would say yes or no, and then we would transcribe that down on the paper so that it would make sense to another singer.
DH: Over the past four years, you’ve been very closely involved with all of Collective Unconscious’ work, and you’re considered one of our “Core Collaborators.” What is it like being a member of a company, versus a one-off collaborator?
SM: I enjoy both kinds of experiences. As a company member, I enjoy the rapport, trust, and shorthand that we can have. Something that I particularly value about working with Collective Unconscious is the importance of people’s energies and what they bring into the room that’s not just raw talent--kindness and a willingness to be on a team is valued as much as training and a good work ethic. It makes the rehearsal process a lot more enjoyable as an actor, and I can’t wait to see how it will be as a music director!
To support artists like Sarah working on our upcoming fall production of Into the Darkness, please consider making a tax-deductible gift on our GiveMN page here. Thank you for your support!
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