An interview w/the playwright of Still/Falling, Rachel Aberle
An interview w/the playwright of Still/Falling, Rachel Aberle
Rachel Aberle is an accomplished Canadian playwright based in Vancouver. Rachel's play Still/Falling is coming to GCTC April 3 and 4 and tackles a lot of tough subjects for youth today. Our Education Manager, Catherine Ballachey, recently talked with Rachel about her play, how young people can relate to it, and what it's like working with Green Thumb Theatre.
Catherine Ballachey: Hi Rachel! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions today about Still/Falling and Vancouver’s Green Thumb Theatre. We’re really excited to have the show at GCTC. We think it’s an important story for young people to experience - and adults too!
To start, tell me a bit about your work with Green Thumb. You’re currently the Associate Artistic Director, but you’ve also been the Community Engagement and Development Coordinator, as well as a performer. Not to mention a playwright! How did you get involved with Green Thumb?
Rachel Aberle: So, I’ve worked with Green Thumb a lot over the past decade. Green Thumb has offered me a lot of my ‘firsts’. Green Thumb cast me in my first professional acting gig out of theatre school, in a co-production the company did with Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg. I played Maggie, a 17-year old girl who winds up spending an unexpected weekend with her estranged father. It was an amazing first contract to have, because I got to be one half of a very meaty two-hander, and I was acting across from Ron Lea who is, in my opinion, one of the best actors in the country. Every day felt like a master class. I worked with Green Thumb a few more times as an actor, and then in 2013 came to Green Thumb Artistic Director Patrick McDonald with the first draft of what became Still/Falling. Over the next two years I developed the show, with extensive mentorship and input from Patrick, and I feel so lucky to have had such incredible guidance while working on my first professionally produced play. Then a couple of years ago I called Patrick looking for some advice about some professional soul-searching I was doing. Essentially I was feeling like I wanted to work in theatre in a way that provided me with a bit more agency, and let me have a bit more control over the kinds of projects I worked on than I was finding freelance acting afforded me. At the time Green Thumb was going through some shifts in their staff structure, so it just really worked out for both me and the company for me to join them at that time. Working for the company in all these different ways has definitely aided my ability to participate in the day-to-day operations of the company. I definitely feel like I know the company from the ground up, and I think that’s pretty beneficial.
CB: Tell me a bit about Still/Falling. What was your inspiration behind writing this play?
RA: I wrote Still/Falling because I wanted to provide teens with a play that openly and honestly looked at what mental health challenges can look like. While the play isn’t autobiographical, I experienced some of the things Nina, the main character, goes through in the play, and it was incredibly challenging for me to address these issues head-on when I was a teenager. Part of that was because the conversations around mental health weren’t anywhere near where they are today, but part of it was definitely because I think it can be easy to chalk up extreme emotions in teens to hormones or ‘teen angst’. That’s certainly something I came up against in my own experience. Basically I wanted to write something that would let teens know, ‘what you’re feeling is real, it’s not something you’re making up or imagining, and there is real help out there for you if you need it’.
CB: Still/Falling has been touring across British Columbia and Canada, being very well-received in every city with nominations for Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, including Outstanding Performance by a lead actress (Olivia Hutt), Outstanding Original Script, and winning Significant Artistic Achievement – TYA. What has it been like taking it to so many different places? What has the response been like in different cities along the way?
RA: It’s been incredible to have the play tour so extensively. You know, as a playwright, it’s a dream – how many people get to say that their first professionally produced play toured to four provinces and one of the United States, and had an audience count of over 33,000 people? I am acutely aware of how rare that is and how fortunate I am. So – that’s the part that’s been nice for my self-confidence. The more important part – the audience response – has been overwhelming. The anecdote that I think sums this up the best is from the show’s very first performance, at a school in Vancouver. The day after the show, a teacher from the school called Green Thumb to thank the company, because following the performance they had had nine students seek out counsellors to ask for help with their own mental health struggles. None of those students had been flagged by staff as being in crisis, so really, without the show they would not have been on anyone’s radar as needing help. To me, that is exactly what the show was written for. It exists to let teens know that they’re not alone, and that there’s no shame or weakness in seeking support.
CB: What would you like students, teachers, and parents to take away from Still/Falling?
RA: I think the best answer for this comes straight from my ‘Note from the Playwright’, which is in the study guide we send out with this show when it tours to schools. I said, “I hope that teenagers who see Still/Falling will take away that drowning in emotional distress is NOT what a normal teenage experience has to look like, and that they will learn to ask for help early and often if they are feeling overwhelmed. I hope too that both the students and educators who see Still/Falling will begin to look out for the kinds of signposts that can be indicators of mental illness. As we begin to acknowledge how common mental illness is, I hope that as a community we can begin to look out for each other, and create positive space for people who are struggling.
And to anyone out there who sees this play who is suffering; who has reached, or is close to reaching a point of crisis, I hope this play can let them know that they are not alone. Ask for the help you need – it is out there, and it does make a difference. And as you embark on a path towards recovery, be patient with yourself. Be patient, and be kind.”
CB: Any last thoughts you’d like to share with students, teachers, or parents who might be interested in learning more about this show?
RA: Just that I hope people keep the lines of communication open about mental health. I think that’s basically the only hope any of us have got in the long run. And to anyone who the show strikes a chord with, please don’t be shy! Olivia (who plays Nina) and I love hearing from the people who see the show.
CB: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us, Rachel! Again, we really look forward to having Still/Falling at GCTC.
Tickets are still available for Green Thumb Theatre’s Still/Falling running April 3rd and 1pm April and 4th at 10am and 1pm. For more information, visit our website here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.