Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.
For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions.
We are proud to introduce the Next Leading Lady for March 2018: Rachel Graf Evans
Where do you work and what do you do?
I am a playwright and theatre artist. I currently serve as the Dramatists Guild Young Ambassador for the Atlanta Region and am a member of Working Title Playwrights. Co-winner of the 2018 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award (for BUILT TO FLOAT) and recipient of the Working Title Playwrights Ethel Woolson Lab (for PHEROMONE). 2016-17 Playwright Apprentice at Horizon Theatre Company and the current Alliance Theatre Literary Intern.
When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I have always been involved in the theatre arts, a performer with strong producer inclinations. In the fifth grade, when faced with a talent show instead of the traditional class play, I extracted the short play featured in my American Girl Magazine (it was called “Thirteen” and about a bunch of superstitious adolescents at a slumber party — did anyone else read that issue?), wrangled my friends together (with the help of some incredibly supportive parents!), cast them, rehearsed it in our homes, and presented it as our talent. Fifth grade. Ten years old. I guess I can’t help myself.
I continued acting through school, all the while finding as many opportunities to write plays instead of papers for academic assignments. This continued all the way through undergrad, wherein for my Gender Studies Honors Project, I synthesized all of my research (on the relationship between female gender identity in the face of an infertility diagnosis of MRKH) into an original musical called VESSEL featuring an ominous chorus of Greek goddesses.
I’ve since made a commitment to playwriting as a professional pursuit, if simply because I am interested in expanding the narratives and characters represented within the theatrical canon.
If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
Right now, I’m researching the life and work of Mary White Ovington, a white Unitarian Universalist social worker who was instrumental in the founding of the NAACP. I would love to sit down with her and ask her about her experiences navigating social and racial privilege in the early part of the 20th century, particularly with her upper middle class white peers who chose more “neutral” (read: disengaged) positions on social justice and race relations. The parallels to our current climate resonate with me and I’m interested in how MWO’s personal convictions shifted from observation into action.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
I admire abundantly, so depending on the day, this answer changes. I honor any artist who creates opportunities for themselves, even if it is unexpected or seems unlikely.
The first answer that comes to mind (inspired by the nostalgia factor of “what did you want to be when you grew up?”) is Barbra Streisand, particularly her remarkable feat in writing, directing, producing, and starring in YENTL, a film about a young Jewish woman in Eastern Europe at the turn of the century who disguises herself as a young man in order to continue her (illegal) pursuit of education after her father dies. Barbra wearing all the creative hats, especially with such a triumphant result (please note my love of musicals and Mandy Patinkin), offered me permission by example to wear more than one creative hat on a single project.
In undergrad, I wasn’t cast in a mainstage production I’d been pining to be a part of, so after two days of rage and rejection, I decided to channel all that energy (frustration included) into something productive: my own production. I decided I wanted to play Lucy in YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN and after no luck shopping out a director from amongst my friends, I put on that director hat, too. A little reckless, but there is no better way to learn than on your feet.
Thus far, I’ve been successful in delegation such that I’m only wearing one or two hats at one time (Playwright/Composer; Writer/Actor; Director/Actor) but I imagine I haven’t yet reached my final form.
How is art a passion for you?
I grew up overseas with my parents working in development, social justice, and education and for a long time, I struggled to reconcile my pursuit of theatre arts with my vision of what a life of service looks like. My shift in perspective began upon seeing seeing Betty Shamieh’s THE BLACK EYED, a play about four Arab women martyrs from across the eras who meet in the afterlife. I called my mother in tears, declaring I had to quit theatre and return to Jerusalem (where we lived when I was ages 2-7) and do my part in Middle Eastern reconciliation. She gently and wisely posited that perhaps I should take a step back and consider how indeed it was a piece of theatre that made such a deep, even disconcerting impression. I cite that experience often, as it transformed my understanding of theatre as a tool for collective social impact. As we search for ways to heal our increasingly fractured world, I am interested in the theatre as a garden for empathy.
What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
The first order of business is to reframe the thinking that there is a finite number of “opportunity slots” for inclusion. For example, the idea that non-male playwrights are all clawing for the same singular slot “for a woman writer” in a theatre’s six show season. Historically, on a national level, this is how a lot of the industry has worked. It would also appear we are at a turning point of what leadership looks like (and how one is allowed to behave in positions of power). I am hopeful this will result in some exciting changes of representation in top leadership and programming.
Secondly, step up and emphatically support organizations run and work made by women, trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming individuals. Collaborate with them. Patronize them. Hype their work to friends and family.
And, thirdly, I am the first proponent of creating your own opportunity. By all means, knock on the doors of established organizations and foster those relationships, and also motivate through your own vision of tomorrow. Being excluded from someone else’s institution is a gift of agency. Being released from having to operate within someone else’s parameters fuels discovery and growth.
In conclusion: There is enough room for all of us. If you don’t see the space where your work belongs, make it! We are each others’ best assets and collaborators, not each others’ competition. It’s a “Yes, and” sort of thing, if you will.
What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
How much potential there is! There is so much talent and energy and the momentum only continues to grow. There is so much interest and support for new theatre work and artist development all over town, from organizations of all sizes. The creative energy is collaborative and innovative.
What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
I want my theatre work to start conversations. I want it to bring people together, both in the creation process and in presentation. I am drawn to work that asks big questions without necessarily answering them, allowing audiences to grapple with their own impressions and conclusions. I am interested in collaborating with anyone and everyone interested in building as many avenues for creation, expression, and inclusion as possible.
Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?
For all things RGE:
Follow me @rachelgrafevans on Twitter
Stay tuned at www.rachelgrafevans.com
Some notable upcoming projects include:
My play PHEROMONE was recently selected for a Working Title Playwrights Ethel Woolson Lab and will receive a public reading in May. Learn more about WTP and the EWL at www.workingtitleplaywrights.com
My play BUILT TO FLOAT is a co-winner (with Avery Sharpe’s WOKE) of the 2018 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award and will receive a production as part of the Essential Theatre Festival this coming August. For more information on Essential Theatre and their summer festival, head on over to www.essentialtheatre.com