Art meets Reality - and panics!
So here goes:
It was terrifying and exciting to have Rachael arrive. A pre-op transgender about whom my play was written, her opinion on finally seeing the show was something I had been nervously awaiting for a number of weeks by now. Since the play is mainly verbatim with a sprinkling of artistic licence, much of it was in her own words anyway and she had already been presented with scripts prior to the festival opening. Regardless, her seeing the show was set to have a major impact on our entire journey so far. As much as I love her story and think it makes a fantastic play, if she was unhappy with it I would've handed it back to her in a flash. Rachael is such an incredible person I feel so lucky that she's given me the opportunity to tell her story. If she was unhappy with my attempts I'd have been upset and ashamed I think.
A perfect example of why I fell so in love with the people and community (Bloomington, Indiana) featured in the play lies in the fact that, once word got around that I was taking the play to Edinburgh, they all got together and held a fundraiser ('Scotland with Bust' featuring a silent auction, burlesque dancing, karaoke and more) so that Rachael could be sent over here for the festival. Volunteers also organised to run the cafe while she was away. So on August the 14th my friend Jacinta and I picked up Eric Wininger (Passport demands he travels as a man. I walked past him twice in the airport.) and whisked her back to our Edinburgh apartment to transform back into the Rachael we know and love.
Her first viewing of the show caused my actor Graham Elwell to quake in his boots as the full reality of performing someone's life in front of their eyes truly kicked in. As he took to the stage the confidence of the last two weeks of blossoming performances dissipated and he nervously stumbled his way through the show - fluffing lines, speeding up/slowing down and studiously avoiding Rachael's gaze. This sounds terrible, but strip away the layer of self-conciousness and the critical gaze that is natural to the writer, director and/or producer of a piece, and realise that he gave a good, solid performance. He's a fantastic actor and by now we had plenty of practice under our belts. It was just the final polish and the shine that that creates that was missing from this performance. Heart beating wildly, Graham nervously greeted Rachael and then dashed off to the other show he was involved with.
If we thought Graham was shell-shocked, we had yet to see Rachael. A normally effusive 'Y'all are amazing' kind of woman, she was strangely quiet and insular post-performance. When I wanted to talk to her about the show she simply told me she was still shaken by watching some of the hardest moments of her life unravel, or should I say re-unravel, in front of not only her eyes but a whole bunch of strangers. I was terrified. I was thrilled to have written the play, to be getting good reviews, but at no point have I ever disconnected the play from it's source. I didn't write a play about Rachael because she is a transgender person. I wrote a play about Rachael before I adore her, I think she's amazing, beautiful and so very warm. It just so happens this was her story. For her not to like the play hurt me greatly.
We settled into Edinburgh life once again. Rachael moved into our flat, we took her to see shows (Her favourite? Kev Orkian.), ate out, met friends and explored Edinburgh. Then she came to see the show again. This time we didn't discuss her reaction, but she seemed calmer and she started flyering with a vengeance to encourage people to come. She appeared on Mervyn Stutter's 'Pick of the Fringe' where she was interviewed about her life, had her picture on the front of Three Week's Magazine and then...? She came to the show again! And again!
By the end of the Fringe she had seen the play four times, and was slowly opening up about how she felt about it. She didn't regret it being staged, she thought we had rarely taken too much artistic license (believe me she's pointed out where rewrites need to be made!) and, most importantly, she started to see the audiences' reactions to our play. How people started to see people in her situation as human, how transgender people wanted to meet her and me and thank us for writing the play and how all the bits she felt were too sad (her divorce, arguments with her son etc.) really just show up how happy the story ultimately is or can be.
Rachael's presence in Edinburgh taught me so very much about writing a play about a real person. Adapting to suit her reactions whilst still maintaining the theatricality of the piece was a tremendous challenge. Working with an actor to respectfully take on another person's character without taking liberties or straying from the truth is so much harder for all parties involved than I could have ever imagined. I think a small part of me thought that I was getting off lightly not having to sit down and make up an entire play from scratch - that I simply interviewed someone, made it into a play and TA DA! I'm glad I learnt that it has its challenges all of its own.
On an end note. Rachael started to open up more and more about her feelings regarding the play. Ultimately I believe she felt I was respectful to who she was and what she wanted. She has okayed further development of the play and has confirmed she will be involved every step of the way. I'm so thrilled to have been given the opportunity to share this amazing person's story. I hope that's not too cheesy.