Neighbors

Meet Teen Playwright Rachel Wagner

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16-year-old neighbor Rachel Wagner has written her first play and is looking for a little help. Called Kids These Days, it’s been accepted to The Riant Theatre’s Strawberry One-Act Festival this August, where she has the chance to win $1,500 and have a full-length play developed by the Riant. The competition runs this August 3-18 at The Theater at St. Clements, 423 West 46th Street, in Manhattan. Another local teen, Ashley St. Juliette, will direct what seems to be a pretty ambitious project. Now all they have to do is raise some money and find a set designer, a stage manager, and several teen actors. No biggie.

Here’s an interview we did with Rachel–info on how to help her out is at the end:

DPC: Tell us a little about the play you’ve written. What’s it about, and what inspired you to write it?

RW: I absolutely hate writing things unless I’m inspired. I feel there should be a law against writing things without personal meaning. I heard about the Strawberry One Act Festival and racked my brain for hours about what I should write and I could not come up with anything. I figured if nothing came to me, then I’d enter another year. But then, one day in class, it just hit me.

I was sitting in class after having the worst day of my life. I felt like my problems were consuming me, like my life was falling apart, yet the most pressing issue, while sitting in that classroom, was whether or not I completed my homework assignment.

So it got me thinking. I’ve spent the last 11 years in this school system, a system that pits us against each other to see if we can be an honors student or the valedictorian. A system that has taught me how to dissect a sheep’s brain but a system that has never taught me how to deal with my issues, or how to be happy. So I asked myself what will happen once I graduate, and once those issues that were hidden behind textbooks and calculators soon become real?

DPC: Who’s working on it with you?

RW: Throughout my years of experience as an actor, I have learned what you should and should not do as a director from observing the directors I have worked with. You need to have someone who is reliable, someone who is artistically inclined and creative and someone who you know you work well with. That is why I chose to work with my friend, Ashley St. Juilette, another Ditmas Park resident. We met at an acting class, and she is an amazing actress and has such a creative outlook on life that I needed her to be a part of my project!

DPC: How long have you been involved in theater, and what got you started doing it?

RW: Most little kids want to be famous. They want to be like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, but I wanted to be like GavrocheGavroche is a character from Les Miserables. I saw the production when I was around 5. Gavroche was a small character in the play, but still very important. When I first saw him on stage I was shocked. I could not believe someone my age was in the production. (Although, knowing this industry, he was probably a 20-year-old playing the part of a 5-year-old.) I remember leaving the theater and telling my mom I could have done a better job than the actor who played Gavroche. I guess you could say that was the day that I knew I wanted to start acting. Since then, it has been non-stop acting. I’ve taken endless classes, done a ton of jobs, and I am now starting to write and produce my own productions!

DPC: Are you hoping to (gasp!) go into the performing arts professionally?

RW: I thought about whether the possibility of living in a box and eating cat food was worth doing what I love, and the truth is, it is. It’s scary to think about–the possibility of not having  financial security is scary for a 16-year-old who gets a weekly allowance from her parents. But the truth is (and this is going to sound really bad), I hate everything else. I hate the idea of sitting in a cubicle, or an office, and the only time where I really feel happy and like myself is onstage playing the part of somebody else.

I would love to do anything in the performing arts, whether it’s casting or directing, but my heart really belongs to acting. I also think that if you really love what you do and you are a hundred percent sure that it’s what you want, then nothing should hold you back from being successful. People quit too easily. I’m not one of those people.

DPC: Who inspires your writing–favorite playwrights, other types of writers, visual artists, musicians, etc.?

RW: I get inspiration from the most random things. I never go looking for it, and when it happens and an idea hits me, I immediately write it down (in my phone, on a piece of paper, and for the unfortunate days when I don’t have either, I write it on my hand).

But most of my inspiration comes from the people I meet. If there was an award for meeting the most interesting people, I would win.

A lot of my influences also come from music. I am constantly listening to music. I have no specific taste in music; I just listen to anything whether it’s dubstep, rock and roll, folk, rap, pop. It just depends on the day, but I love music that gets me thinking, and once I start thinking the writing just follows. Exploring different genres of music is just like exploring different topics for writing.

DPC: Do you go to see plays often? Seen anything really great lately that we should check out?

RW: I have not recently seen any plays. I have been so beyond busy with the play festival, school work, and going out on auditions that I have no time for anything. But I do find times to read plays. I am currently in the middle of reading Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. I plan to use Nina’s monologue at the end of the play for college auditions in a couple of months!

And if you’re looking for a good read that really gets you thinking, read Agnes of God by John Pielmeier. Oh, also! For anybody interested in Method Acting and how it works, The Lee Strasberg Notes has completely changed my view on acting (I even chose to write a 13-page thesis paper on him for my school’s graduation requirement).

DPC: For those of us who moved here later in our lives, what’s it been like growing up in here? I was definitely really ready to leave my hometown for college–is that how you feel or do you love it here?

RW: This neighborhood has been amazing to grow up in. When I was young, I had a best friend who lived right across the street. Living in Ditmas has been heaven on earth. I’m constantly in the city to hang out with friends or go to school and coming home to a beautiful, quiet neighborhood has been something I really appreciate.

Although, I’m going into my senior year of high school, and much like the character Juliana in my play, I am dying to see what life has in store for me. I’ve spent my entire life doing the same thing in the same place with the same people. This sounds so cliché but life is bigger than my neighborhood. Life is what you make of it. I can choose to keep it the same way it’s always been or I can make life bigger and better and choose what I want to do rather than having it chosen for me. I love and appreciate this neighborhood so much, but my plans for the near future have me moving on.

Ways you can help out:

• Rachel’s started a fundraising campaign through Indiegogo. To donate (and watch a short video she’s made about the play), visit:
http://www.indiegogo.com/KidsTheseDays?a=627857

• She’s dedicated to using only teenage actors (ages 15-18) and is currently auditioning for both male and female roles (this coming Saturday is the last day she’ll be auditioning):
http://mandy.com/1/cast3.cfm?v=49507436

• If you have any leads on set designers, stage managers, or any other questions/suggestions/encouragements, you can email Rachel at [email protected].

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