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Meet Rachel Mann!
Rachel’s plays have been seen at Athena Theatre, Forward Theater Company, EST's First Brew, InViolet Theater, The PlayGround Experiment, and Naked Angels’ Tuesdays at 9. Her play CLASS MOTHER was nominated for best play at the Winterfest Theater Festival 2016. Her novel ON BLACKBERRY HILL won the 2016 National Jewish Book Award for YA. Find Rachel at rachelmannwriter.com
Tell us about your experience(s) with The Bechdel Group.
I attended the new play development series last spring, and the annual staged reading in the summer. I really enjoyed the discussion that followed the readings. It was great to discuss art in a place where feminism is at the forefront of the discussion, and with people who think deeply about the effect that art has on culture.
Your work passes the Bechdel test; (or we wouldn’t be having this interview) but is meeting the criteria of the test something you set out to do when you write? If not, how has seeing your work, as now identified through this lens, changed or informed your writing?
Yes, I do keep the Bechdel test in mind when I set out to write, and have for some time. I’m very aware of the under representation of women’s voices in media, both behind the scenes and on stage. I’m naturally drawn to women’s stories, so it’s not a stretch for me to feature them in my work.
The Bechdel test is, by its existence, a kind of political rubric – and now identified in film and theatre theory. Are there any other politics or rubrics that influence your work? Is it important to you to identify as a feminist writer?
Feminism informs my life in all ways--as a mother, as a citizen, and of course as a writer. Interestingly, when I started writing SAY IT OUT LOUD, the family in the play had two brothers and one sister. I changed one of the siblings from Mark to Michelle, in order to create another female role in this play. The play would have passed the Bechdel test without this change, because of the relationship between the mother and daughter, but my concern extends beyond the Bechdel test, towards creating a world on stage in which women are not “Smurfettes.”
How important is getting feedback for your writing process and what do you hope to get from feedback at a reading?
As a writer with a fiction background, one of the things that draws me to playwriting is the collaborative aspect of theater. Readings are a great way of getting feedback, and I would argue, an essential one. Actors breathe life into the people on the page. With each interpretive choice that an actor makes, I make discoveries about the scene and the story. Actors also ask great questions about intent.
How is the feedback you get from a live audience reading different from other types of feedback you seek? Theater needs an audience to complete the circle; having an audience present to listen, react, and ask questions gives me food for thought as to what is working, and what needs more consideration. Audiences laugh and smile and cringe--each reaction tells me what effect a scene is having.
Tell us about a character you’ve written who surprised you, or took a turn you didn’t expect.
There are some characters whose voices I can just naturally hear, and others who take more time to let me into their skin. In this play, I could hear Judy, the matriarch professor, from the beginning, and some of her speeches tumbled onto the page full form. Her daughter Devora was a little harder for me to write, and I had to spend time digging into her motivations and desires. Devora surprised me with her genuine wish to be trusted to make her own choices. In the end, I found myself empathizing with her more than I expected to.
What are you working on now, or what can we look forward to hearing about next from you?
I’m a member of Athena Theatre’s 2017 Playwrights’ Group, Athena Writes. This year, we’ve been creating works around the theme of “A New Memory.” My new play, WINE AND WATER, is about a college student searching for answers on a backpacking trip around South America, and will be featured in a staged reading in December.
The Bechdel Group
Working to challenge the portrayal of women in film and on stage.