In on the Conversation:
Playwright Alexis Schaetzle and Director Anne Mason Chat About WANDA, DAISY & THE GREAT RAPTURE
AS: For me, the spark of a new play is usually an image, which delineates the parameters of the world. In this case, it was a huge, super moon hanging on a clothesline, above two young women. For whatever reason, that scene got me thinking about family histories, and how our memories are never really past. This play has gone through many reincarnations over the last few years. [With different drafts] I realized it was a story about how you search for purpose, meaning, and peace in every corner of the world, including your very own front yard. The process of discovery, draft after draft is freeing, and fun, and very hard. I've shuffled all its layers many times; the structure has changed, the characters swung wildly into unexpected emotional terrain, the story went in different directions, and with each attempt, the play opens itself up to new meanings. A new play is hungry and has no manners. I’ve learned that you have to try and be fearless and patient during its inevitable period of growing pains.
AM: I love the encouragement to be fearless. It falls perfectly in line with our goal at Relative Theatrics to take risks! The characters in this play have a lot to fear - the direness of their financial circumstances, the uncertainty of Bud's medical state, the darkness of depression, and the ever-present possibility that the girls will inherit the same hand of cards that their parents were dealt. It's been fascinating to explore how the family dances from resistance to reliance on each other. It makes me wonder about what individuals owe to others, whether direct blood relatives or strangers in society.
AS: Great question. There is a lot of tension between Wanda and Daisy surrounding who is a better member of the family, and who is doing the most to solve the problems at hand. The main conflict of their stitched-together sisterhood is that at any moment, they can be one another's greatest ally, or worst enemy. In their own different ways, they threaten each other with the fact that they aren't technically related, and weaponize the idea of abandoning the other to stay in Crawley and clean up the mess alone. But over the years of sisterhood, they teach each other how to fight, and how to forgive, and how to hope. Through learning the very complicated vocabulary of grief, they share a cosmic connection, and are bound to the same yearning for purpose and meaning. I think you see examples of that in the world (especially now given the nastiness of the current political atmosphere) between perfect strangers; fighting for justice on behalf of a stranger across the country, or witnessing someone suffering, and offering aid in any way you can. I think it comes down to a fundamental philosophy about how you choose to move through the world-- do you believe that you owe your fellow human being kindness, and empathy? Or is it every person for themselves?
AM: Beautiful. I find that giving back to others can be a rapturous experience. It’s been really enjoyable discovering the various ways "rapture" manifests in the play. In addition to the religious connotation, rapture can also represent an experience of being carried away by overwhelming emotion or a mystical experience in which the spirit is exalted to a knowledge of divine things. I particularly like this last definition in thinking about Theresa Lee's presence in the play. It's very evocative of Southern Gothic styles. Was that on your mind when crafting the story?
AS: Yeah, the idea of Rapture in the religious sense; being chosen and taken to Heaven is really beautiful, and also really terrifying to me. What if you're not chosen? The play is about feeling small and overwhelmed by the world and all its possibilities. Are they for you? How can you reach out and touch them when you feel stuck? It's about searching for the extraordinary inside our seemingly ordinary lives. I was interested in tangling up the idea of The Rapture, with rapture (joy, pleasure, overwhelming emotion), and watching the girls grapple with creating a rapturous life on Earth, in their yard, with very little.
I love what you said about Theresa Lee's spirit being rapturous--my plays tend to always blend Southern Gothic with magic realism. I love [Faulkner’s] quote: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I think this gets right to the heart of the Southern Gothic tradition, which is largely about a place, its story, and the sinister tendrils that creep through. Hanging over the characters is a sense of inevitability. The past haunts them. Magic realism and Southern Gothic is a perfect marriage to me, because they share the same ineffability. They both explore the otherworldly, and the delicious dualities of being alive: the tragic and the comedic, the lyrical and the banal, the divine and the obscene.
AM: I am enamored with this marriage of styles. The imagery and symbolism of the bugs, the gator, and the moon have been really rich material when exploring how to best evoke the sinister and the magical. They also play expertly with the waltz-like movement between memory, dreams, the subconscious, and reality. Can you talk a bit about those choices?
AS: These characters are standing in the middle of an emotional tornado; grief, love, anger...and I wanted the structure of the play to reflect that, so the world became a collage of memories, dreams, and their subconscious, which is where the great, scary, wonderful truths about our lives are hidden. The characters are all stuck inside of their realities; the yard, the trailer, the crappy jobs, and I wanted their anxiety to be in juxtaposition with a place like coastal South Carolina; mysterious and wild, lush and alive, somewhere that has its own specific twinge of sadness. I spent every summer in South Carolina when I was little, and I tried to reach back into my imagination to bring the feeling of those memories; the lowlands, the sunsets so magnificent they invented new color wheels, the fireflies, the alligators, the nightly orchestral hum of bugs, into the world of this play.
AM: You've done a magnificent job. Bringing WANDA, DAISY & THE GREAT RAPTURE to life has been a vibrant and deeply satisfying experience. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story with Relative Theatrics. It’s definitely inspired me to be better. To be good. To give back and take care of others. To embrace the darkness in life and find the light.
AS: Thank you so much for believing in this play, and for excavating so much depth that I didn't even see. It's a gift to work with such an empathetic group of people! I like to write about people who might not expect to see themselves or their experiences onstage, so I hope that people will walk away feeling seen. No two experiences of this world are exactly alike, but the beautiful thing about being human is that despite our differences, we are not alone. We lose things. We desire things, we hope for better, we feel defeated, we struggle to find peace within our families. I want people to walk away feeling hopeful. No matter how terrible things get, maybe someone is listening. Maybe there's something big above us. Maybe it's God. Maybe the Rapture will happen. Maybe it's the just the universe, and you've been spotted, or chosen. I want people to walk away with that hopeful pang you get sometimes, when you don't even know you're smiling, and it feels like a rush of wind has blown through your body. Or the feeling you get when you kick off the bottom of the ocean floor, or the pool floor, and you swim and swim and you're running out of air, and just when it starts to get scary, you burst through the top of the water, hands reaching, wildly up towards the sky.