Welcome to our interview series with the current rockin MFA playwrights, leading up to Seabury Quinn! This year the interview series will be a little different since different pairs of writers interviewed eachother! These pairs of writers were chosen by the head of the program to be “writing partners” and give each other feedback on each others plays throughout the spring semester.
This interview is questions for Rachel by second year playwright, Natasha Smith. Rachel Bykowski is a third year playwright and wrote the mainstage play “The Big Fuckin’ Giant! Also watch out for all of the other interviews with our other writers!
Natasha Smith: A lot of your work explores sports culture and performing masculinity. How did you get interested in writing about those topics?
Rachel Bykowski: Sports have always been a part of my life. While I might not be an “athlete,” I was raised in the sports culture thanks to my brother and father. ESPN is constantly playing in background of my family’s home. I grew-up going to Wrigley Field and watching the Cubs play and booing the Sox. In the summer, my family’s dinner time is catered around the Blackhawks playoff schedule and the same goes for the Bears in the winter. And finally, Michael Jordan will forever be the Greatest Of All Time (sorry, not sorry, Lebron). Talking sports, stats, rotations, scores, and drafts was a way to bond in my family. I am very attracted to the community that is created when people are united behind the same team.
Natasha: Tell me about your rehearsal process. What have you learned through rehearsing this play? Any surprising challenges or nuggets of wisdom?
Rachel: The rehearsal process is a reminder of the reason I love theatre: it’s a collaboration. As a playwright, I feel I spend a lot of time alone working on my play. After days, weeks, or months staring at my lap top, the rehearsal process begins, and I feel like I can breath again. For BIG FUCKIN’ GIANT’s rehearsal, I was very lucky to be surrounded by talented artists who believed in the script and trusted me as a writer. One of the things I learned during the rehearsal process is, as a playwright, I am surrounded by other artists who are giving their time and creative energies to bring my words to life. From the director and actors, to the designers, to the dramaturg, and the stage management team, my words mean absolutely NOTHING without them. For this reason, I owe them. I owe it to them to show up on time, meet my deadlines, be attentive, and turn in my best possible work. I also owe it to them to bring a professional, collaborative atmosphere to the room. I leave my ego and personal problems at the door and show up ready to listen to questions and take notes. I think one of the challenges of the rehearsal process is learning how to listen to these questions and take criticisms without losing YOUR voice and vision of the play. As a writer, I am not going to make everyone happy, but I need to write something that feels true to me.
Natasha: You’re graduating! Looking back on your three years here, what aspects of the program have changed you the most as a person? What will you miss the most?
Rachel: OMG! I AM graduating! (hahalolidon’twanttoleave). This has seriously been the fastest and longest three years of my life. Making the decision to attend graduate school was an enormous personal and professional choice. I advise anyone who is thinking about attending grad school to take a beat, breath, and really consider why you want to go. Grad school is not for everyone. Some people need the rigorous program of academia and others do just fine without it. Ohio University’s program offered me many professional opportunities that I do not believe I would have achieved without it. I am more confident in my voice as a writer and have an expansive portfolio of work. I think one of the things I will miss the most is the program supporting me and letting me know that my voice matters. As a playwright (and person) you really don’t hear that too much. This program gave me the confidence in my voice to say the things I kept quiet in my heart, taught me how to put it on paper, and bring my truths to life on stage.
Natasha: Rape culture is a huge subject to take on, and your play evolved quite a bit from its inception to now. What was it like proposing an idea for a play long before you actually wrote it, then drafting the actual script?
Rachel: Rape culture IS a huge subject, but I feel if you approach it with honest stories from your perspective, it becomes a lot easier to tackle. However, one of the hardest things I had to learn was just that: how to tell a story. Often when I write, I start with big subject matters, but people come to theatre to hear a story.
When I proposed THE BIG FUCKIN’ GIANT, it had a completely different title and NO STORY. I knew that I wanted to discuss white, male privilege and how it contributes to violence against women. I personally believe the “no means no” argument has been discussed to the point of exhaustion and waiting until AFTER the violence occurs is too late. I wanted to write a play that reveals the preconditioning groups of young men partake in together that leads to violence. This is often disguised as “locker room talk” or “boys just being boys.” However, it has severe repercussions for women.
When developing the story, I knew I wanted an all white, male cast on stage since they represent the most privileged group in America. In addition, I wanted them to be athletes. Just like a white, male senator (or our current President), athletes are almost untouchable by law. They get away with countless forms of violence against women and still get rewarded with big contracts and trophies…why?!?!?! With these components in mind, I started to construct a story about three, white, male college athletes in the basement of their fraternity. What is important to them? What do they talk about? What are their dreams? How do they view the world? How do they view women?
I found there is a correlation between how they view the world and how they view women. It is because of this reason, despite all my rewrites and drafts one thing remained the same: Judy. Judy is the ONLY female representation we see on stage. Judy also helps me create and keep aesthetic distance for the audience. I believe how the characters in the play treat Judy in their basement speaks volumes to their behavior in the outside world.
Now that Rachel is your new BFF in your head, go see her production!
The Big Fuckin’ Giant
by Rachel Bykowski
Directed by Allison Epperson
8:00 pm – April 12th, 15th, 20th & 21st;
2:00 pm – April 15th, Forum Theater, RTV Building
Alright, pussies! You ready? Do you have what it takes to be an Alpha? Think you can pin the Big Fuckin’ Giant? Push! Push yourself to the fucking brink. Until you feel the pain. See your opponent standing there across the mat. Want to take him down? The night before the NCAA wrestling conference, three fraternity brothers have to prove they are the alphas of the mat and Judy is just the girl to help them. Once you step onto the mat, you can never stop.
Tickets for the Featured Productions are $5 general admission or FREE for OU Students (with valid student ID) through Arts for Ohio; available at the Templeton–Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium box office.
More about Rachel
Rachel Bykowski, a Chicago native, writes plays to raise awareness about social issues. Specifically, much of her writing features women and analyzes gender roles, rape culture, and male privilege. Rachel’s full-length play TIGHT END was selected by the National New Play Network to be workshopped at the Kennedy Center for the MFA Playwrights’ Festival. TIGHT END will be receiving its world premiere production with 20% Theatre Company Chicago in May of 2017. Rachel was one of six graduate students at Ohio University to be awarded a Named Fellowship, The Trisolini. The Trisolini will allow Rachel to work with Ohio University’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department to research violence against women perpetrated by male privilege for the 2016-2017 academic year. This research will be showcased in her thesis play VOODOO DOLL during the 2017 Seabury Quinn Playwrights’ Festival at Ohio University. Other playwriting credits include her full lengths: ORIGINAL RECIPE workshop production (DePaul University,) GOT TO KILL BITCH staged reading (Cock and Bull Theatre,) GLORY VS. THE WOLVES staged reading (20% Theatre Company and Women and Children First Bookstore,) and A GIRL NAMED CHARLIE staged reading (Ohio University). Rachel’s ten minute plays have been produced with various companies around Chicago and the Midwest including 20% Theatre Company, Fury Theatre, Commedia Beauregard, and Actors’ Theatre of Louisville Apprentice Company. Rachel received her BFA in playwriting from the Theatre School of DePaul University and is currently attending Ohio University for her MFA in Playwriting. Rachel is a proud company member and Literary Manager for 20% Theatre Chicago. For more information, check out her website http://www.rachelbykowskiplays.com