5 minutes with: The Team’s Rachel Chavkin

Director and co-founder of experimental American company The TEAM, who are about to open their show ”RoosevElvis” at the Royal Court, discusses soccer, Edinburgh and two American icons

Centre: a production shot of RoosevElvis; top right: Rachel Chavkin
Centre: a production shot of RoosevElvis; top right: Rachel Chavkin

I was actually more into soccer than theatre as a kid. I was a football player and then I started going to a summer theatre camp. It was just as a thing to do. I began to love the idea of forming these companies, these teams with a cast. But I did grow up seeing plays – I come from a family that believes in theatre as an agent for social justice and activism. I didn’t do them until later.

Our ensemble’s name The TEAM actually comes from my nickname. I had run a race with my family and we had t-shirts made that said our names on – Team Chavkin – which became my nickname. The company name came from there.

Every strand of The TEAM’s professional life traces back to our first summer in Edinburgh in 2005. I had heard about the fringe, but never been. I thought it sounded like fun and a great opportunity to put our work into a larger arena. But we ended up winning the Fringe First in the first week of the festival for our solo show Give up! Start Over! It was at that point that we began having conversations with the likes of Lorne Campbell, Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany. It was funny because we had to go to Edinburgh to get the attention of New York.

The Team are a truly democratic ensemble which means we are remarkably inefficient. We are obsessed with America and American history and mythology which we connect with contemporary stories to try to ruminate the current moment. But we’re very playful, there’s a huge sense of humour and irreverence to our work.

Picture an interlocking series of Russian dolls. That’s a little bit what RoosevElvis is like. It’s about Ann in South Dakota who is incredibly lonely and begins channeling Elvis as the way to get courage to meet dates on the internet. Then Elvis’s hero was Teddy Roosevelt and Elvis conjures Teddy Roosevelt and together all three of these people set out on this massive road trip to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.

We have two women playing Elvis and Roosevelt. There’s definitely something irreverent and subversive for us about having two women playing these two iconic images of masculinity. It’s these two men arguing over what type of person Ann should become. It links into the theme that women, for most of history, have not been the ones in position to be the makers of history.

RoosevElvis runs at the Royal Court until Nov 14.