“He’s appropriating ten cultures at once, can we taze him?” might be the best line to capture Raechel Segal’s satirical, absurdist, and darkly hilarious style of playwriting. In Clark Writes’ very first Clark Writer of the Month segment, Raechel chats with editor Laura Barker about satire, handling criticism, and how she turns ideas into plays. Read the interview below.
LB: You’ve written three plays during your time at Clark: The Beefstick Boys, Moon Juice, and Dykes on Wheels. Can you take me through the process of taking just an idea and transforming it into a full-blown play?
RS: There’s a lot of steps to the process. The way I see it, I divide the whole creative process from when the director comes in. For example, with Moon Juice, I sat down and wrote it all out. That was quicker [than the other plays] because it was a ten-minute play, so I just spurted it all out. So, I’ve got this idea in the back of my head, and then I write it all down. Then I go back and edit, and go, “That was dumb; that was good” and refine it until it’s the best I can make it. After long trials of finding a director, I was really blessed and lucky to work with Chelsea Anderson Long, who’s a graduate of Clark, and she kind of took it over and made it her own. So, I think it’s a different process if you’re there with the director, which I was for Playfest, we were all there working together collaboratively, while for Moon Juice, the director would email me questions. The creative and writing process is more individual, and collaborating can be collaborating as a group or me answering emails.
LB: I want to go back to something you said earlier about when the director comes in and takes over. What is that process like? Is it weird handing over control something you’ve created on your own?
RS: It’s actually really cool. I’m so grateful to the directors I’ve had: Wyndham Maxwell for Beefstick Boys and Chelsea Anderson Long for Moon Juice. It’s just so cool because I had a read through for Playwriting II, and it was so cool seeing the characters come alive instead of just hearing the dialogue in my head. It was so cool to see how our visions collaborated and overlapped. I did have a lot of say in casting and stuff, but Chelsea made sure they had their lines memorized, they had their blocking, they had a set with Minute Maid. It was really cool to see.
LB: Could you tell us a bit about the plots for your plays? I know Dykes on Wheels has to do with diversity, and you also do a lot of work with Diversability [an on-campus club where students work with Student Accessibility services to improve awareness on campus].
RS: I’ll start with Moonjuice because it’s quick. It’s this all-female, all-queer jam band, and they’re just playing and having a good time, and then the meminist appears. And he just interrupts the scene and doesn’t understand spaces. My director wanted to cast all the characters that appear before him as a woman, which is really cool. It’s a radio, NPR kind of vibe. So, the meminist, he’s racist, he’s homophobic, he’s sexist, and he starts rapping. And then the police show up, and it’s about all that. And Beefstick Boys takes place in high school, it’s an absurdist satire, which is also a comedy that makes fun of high school. It’s about being proud of yourself. My last show, Dykes on Wheels, takes place at a roller derby and it’s about the intersection of disability and queerness. It’s got a lot of dark humor. I hope it makes people think. I like shows that they end and make you think, not where you leave and you’re like ‘cool’.
LB: You tend to do more comedy and absurdist stuff, right?
RS: Yeah. One example is a character from Beefstick Boys, played by Vesenka, who is the teacher of the high school, and the show opens with him being like, “Can I have five more minutes? You wouldn’t believe how great J-Swipe is!” So, I think you can have an offensive character without having an offensive show. So, I’ve tried to do that delicately in a comedy, where I’m not always rooting for my characters, but I know where they’re coming from. Like, which high school teacher is asking his students about his Tinder matches?
LB: What are the best and worst parts of play writing?
RS: The best part is the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve accomplished something. The worst part is that not everybody gets satire. Beefstick Boys got a mostly a really positive reception. Most of the audience really dug it, but I heard a couple complaints that it was a little offensive. I just wish people could get the difference between an offensive character that we’re laughing at and an offensive play. I’ve been called out on stuff, and felt guilty about it, but then I know I don’t have to feel bad about something creative.
LB: Do people tend to call you out on social media or face to face?
RS: I think people at Clark have been really good at having discussions in person. I’ve had a couple people on social media. I mean, no one’s been mean. Just a difference of opinion, and some people not getting satire.
LB: How do you find time to write everything? I feel like at college, I thought I’d have so much free time, but the reality is that no one has free time. We’ve got homework, clubs, jobs, and dozens of other commitments. How do you squeeze in time?
RS: Luckily, I’m in a creative writing class this semester with Jessica Bane Robert. Part of the problem for me is that I get these urges to write, but I keep saying to myself, ‘You’ve got other things to do, this isn’t productive.’ I know it is a valuable use of time, but there’s no immediate reward to writing. One thing that’s helped is Clark Writes having these forums, because it forces me to write something for a formal event.
Check out Moon Juice here!