Current Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Mattie Rydalch

 

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This week’s unknown playwright hails from Idaho.

Mattie Roquel Rydalch received her MFA from the University of Idaho, and her plays have had readings and workshops in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, New York, Ohio, and Utah. She lives in southeast Idaho, writing plays and fiction, building props and scenery, painting backdrops, and working with K-4 students.

She works in an afterschool program. This session she teaches science, art, music, and outdoor and indoor sports. She even has a “flying things” class where the kids learn about how things fly, and they make projects that fly. I wish I had a “flying things” class in my youth. Sigh.

She composes music and plays a collection of instruments. She likes to ski downhill, grow lemons, and draw comic books.

The first play of Mattie’s which we’ll take a look at is the one-act Bloodkitchen.  This isn’t some kitchen sink drama involving angsty, angry British types. This is a new, exciting and horrific sorta kitchen…the Bloodkitchen. 

Bloodkitchen is an audio play, which is fine because it’s still a play.

The plot concerns a high school lass who comes on a rarely-listened-to radio show (it feels like public radio) to read bits of her horror stories to an uninterested public. This being a horror play, the story-within-a-story (with its horror and debased humor) becomes the play itself.

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This, but in saran wrap. From here.

 

The Detective vomits a lot. And is a bit of a wuss. One of the characters even says so:

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Not the toughest detective in this show-in-a-show.  Naturally, one single irate caller phones in. Well, because that’s what they do. By the way, DEE is the radio host and KYLEE is the teenaged author of the violent detective thingy.

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Let’s be honest with ourselves, who doesn’t let a week past without using the words “hooker” and “nipples”? Or 24 hours, really. 

But this being a Rydalch play, things go downhill pretty fast when Kylee learns nobody listens to the show except for one easily-offended person:

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That’s a situation right there that will only end well for one of the characters. Bloodkitchen is an awesome comedic horror that should become a Halloween staple. 

Our next play is also a one-act epic that takes us to a family whose tradition is…making ice cream? The title is I Scream, You Scream.

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Distance as metaphor. From here.

Ultra-brief summary: Sonny’s parents dream of a career for him in ice cream. But Sonny just wasn’t cut out to dish up the ice cream. His folks have a hard time with that. This may be a metaphor.

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Being raised by the parents from ice cream hell just isn’t enough. He grows up.

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Being hectored by the old man. Via here.

As a teen he receives a gift from his parents.

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Rydalch captures that moment when someone is simultaneously thoughtful and clueless.

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Can anyone else tell slinging ice cream’s not his bag? Via here.

And of course the drama heats up:

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Talk about kitchen sink drama. It’s like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Ice Cream Man. Wait, The Ice Cream Man? No wonder Sonny wants to make balloon animals.

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Dad likes it. From here.
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The son? Not so much. From here.

But since this play has a heart, something magical happens. After years of being away, Sonny reunites with his parents and meets his father.

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Are you verklempt? I know I am. This play won second place at Goshen College’s 2014 Peace Play contest. 

The final sample of Rydalch’s work we’ll cover is Residual.

This play satirizes the asinine stupidity of those ghost hunting shows.

The play grabs one’s attention even before the action begins:

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“Nothing has to be real” is a pretty cool set up. What follows is a comedy of errors as Lidelle, who is alive and well in 1911 checks into a hotel room. She then becomes the focus of two ghost hunters and their efforts to talk to her go about as well as can be expected:

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Typical focus on sex and death for the ghost hunters.
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In 1911 she’s alive and well. And about 20 times smarter than the dead-heads trying to harass/interrogate/make contact with her.

Of course Lidelle can hear them and she accuses kind bellhop Jonas of playing a trick on her which spirals way, way out of control:

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I won’t give away the ending, though the last word in that dialogue steers you in the proper direction.

The ending proves to be a clever, funny and interesting meditation on time and space.

Rydalch doesn’t just write one-acts, she also has several full-length plays under her belt.

Ms. Rydalch was kind enough to share a few words with us. Let’s see what she has to say:

1. How did you start playwriting?

When I was a kid, I was always coming up with worlds and characters. My sister and I spent hours every day creating things together or by ourselves. We wrote stories and songs, and we made videos and audio recordings. When I took my first high school drama class, the teacher suggested I write plays. I wrote a short play, and my classmates performed it at our district drama competition. I had so much fun writing it that I wrote more scenes, and I wrote the libretto for a musical out of them. The next year at district drama, we did several more of my short plays. Some of them were excerpts from longer plays. By then I was writing more full-length musicals. I wanted to do theatre for the rest of my life.

2. What are your influences?

Human beings. Places I’ve been. Things I have done. Art. Photos. Literature. Science articles. Jobs I’ve had. Library books. Technology. Animals. My childhood, full of books and trees and mischief. Music, as when a Simon and Garfunkel song inspired my ten-minute play, Angst. The creativity and passion of my students, who have been children and adults. Problems in the world. The pain and love and courage people have.

3. What is your most memorable production and why?

The performance of Strange Attractors at the University of Idaho in February 2010 is still the most memorable production for me. Everyone who worked on that show put their all into it. I worked in the scene shop, and the actors came in and built furniture with us. I helped our scenic designer paint the set. Everyone put a lot of love into that show.

4. What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]

About year after we did Strange Attractors at UI, I did a reading of a one-act I wrote, and it was not ready for a reading. Everyone who worked on the reading did an excellent job, but I felt the script was lacking. I don’t think it left much of an impression. That’s why I have readings, though—to rework things in the script.

5. What’s your funniest theatre story?

When I was the props artisan at Creede Repertory Theatre in 2017, we were having a preshow gala in the lobby at their black box, and a medium-sized dog wandered in and tried to go for a pot of meatballs. I led the dog outside, and I saw a van parked at the curb with its doors open. The dog ran and jumped up into the van and licked everybody in it. I assumed the people in the van were the dog’s family, but then I heard them say, “Whose dog is this?” It was the most embarrassed I had been in a long time! But the people in the van said the incident was funny, and that they weren’t upset. After the dog went back to her family, the people from the van came in and we watched the play together.

6. What are your writing habits like? 

My writing habits are a musical process, even if the music doesn’t go into the play. I write music for plays even if they’re not musicals, to get the process going. I play piano, guitar, bass, accordion, drums, and other things, and these are all part of the process. I put sheet music together with Finale, especially if I want the music to be in the play. While I was working on the script for Bloodkitchen, I made a GarageBand album with sound effects and background music. It helped me figure out where to place the sounds in the script, and it helped me to describe them. I listen to music, especially while brainstorming. Sometimes make a playlist for the project I’m working on. I leave guitars out around the house so I can pick one up whenever I feel like it. I also have a portable midi piano keyboard as part of my workstation. That includes my laptop and notebooks, and a 1930s typewriter and other things to play with. I don’t only work at the desk, though. I’ve written in theatres, restaurants, parks, cars, libraries, hallways at colleges, and wherever else I feel like writing.

In 2016 I rediscovered the benefits of writing first drafts by hand, and so for each part of my fiction series I’ve done a handwritten first draft. With plays, though, I write almost every draft on my laptop, though I often handwrite my notes, which sometimes have drawings to help me visualize what to put into the script. Much of my writing process is research, because I love research. I love to read, mostly nonfiction. I read more than I write. I make a binder of notes, correspondence, and research for each project. Sometimes a visual art exercise helps me to jumpstart a story, like the time I found an abandoned album of 1980s photos and created a story out of them. Things like that go into the binder, too.

When I have a draft with an ending, I start rewrites. I read the script aloud. Sometimes I have my phone read the draft to me, too, so I can catch more mistakes, but for me there is no substitute for a reading with actors. I do more rewrites after the reading. I have done rewrites after productions. Most of my plays and songs are in a living state of rewrites, even if months or years pass between them. An example of this is that recently I learned more about fractals being used in smartphone technology, and that makes me want to add something about it to Strange Attractors.

7. What advice do you have for new playwrights? 

Learn a new language. Do things outside the theatre. Embrace music. Carry a notebook. Learn about business. Read. Tell new stories. Don’t be afraid to let your characters be themselves. You can’t please everyone, but don’t be a jerk. Don’t get too big for your britches. Value everyone who works with you.

8. Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?

I know many playwrights personally, and I want to recommend all of them. But I think today I’ll mention the playwright I have most recently thought about. Today my sister and I were reminiscing about a one-act play we saw, Prince of Whales by Amy Hollon. It had an unexpected, explosive twist at the climax. It gave me a physical squeezing, wrenching sensation in my rib cage. That’s a rare thing for me. Amy’s plays are entertaining, and they make me think. I almost can’t eat M&Ms anymore without thinking about that play, either—but I won’t spoil it here!

9. What are common themes in your work?

I think if someone looked through my work, they would see repeated themes of cooperation and forgiveness, science and scientists, art and artists, animals, the brain and the body, music, freedom, love, tenacity, literature, religion, families, friendships, life, death, nature, humanity, and sometimes politics.

10. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?

I wish I had known more about how to submit plays when I was starting out, and I wish I had known the importance of having a regular habit of submitting. I needed to develop a healthy relationship with the submissions process, and I needed to become so used to it that I liked it. I still struggle with the submissions process. Right now it’s my biggest hurdle as a playwright. I think if I had mastered submissions long ago, I would have fewer problems with them today.

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The Auburn Crayon rocked Ashland University one night in 2016.

11. Strange Attractors, Bloodkitchen, I Scream, You Scream and Richard’s Leviathan all feature characters vomiting or talking about vomiting. Is there any reason this theme is in your work?

Many of my characters are physically sick because they are sick at heart. This doesn’t mean the characters’ illnesses aren’t real. It only means that they each have something more to be sick about. With Bloodkitchen it’s on the surface, in front of the detective’s face, there to see and smell and step in. But in Strange Attractors and Richard’s Leviathan, the vomiting is long-term or chronic, and it’s a manifestation of a soul that’s hurting.

12. What inspired you to write Bloodkitchen?

I wanted to have fun. I wanted to write something different from my other stuff, too. When I was in high school I did my senior research paper on Ed Gein. Years later, that gave me the idea for Kylie and her gruesome writing project. I had written parts of Kylie’s story, and I had tried to fit them into fiction projects, but when the opportunity for a radio play contest came up, it was a great time to put Bloodkitchen together as its own play. I kept seeing a call for short horror radio plays in the Dramatists’ Guild Resource Directory, and I thought it would be a good challenge for me to write and submit a radio play. I had listened to War of the Worlds almost every Halloween in college, and I had always wanted to write a radio play. I wanted to create something gory and disgusting, but with comedy in it. Mostly, I wanted to have a bloody good time. I wanted to enjoy the process like I would enjoy listening to a good horror story.

13. What is your favorite genre to write and why?

My favorite genre to write is comedy. I write comedies with serious elements, and I write serious plays with comedy in them. I have plays that could happen, such as Strange Attractors, wherein everything has a logical explanation, but I also have plays with magical or supernatural elements, like Shut It On!, about a Faustian deal. Others, like I Scream, You Scream, have their own world, to show an issue prevalent in ours. Comedy helps me to explore worlds within our own. It keeps my attention and helps me to express the truth. I also write comedy because it’s a challenge. When it works, that difficulty pays off by giving the audience something to enjoy and something to think about.

14. Is I Scream, You Scream a metaphor for anything?

I Scream, You Scream is a metaphor for any time a person has to reveal something crucial that makes them who they are—their sexuality, their philosophy, their religion, their worldview, anything important—and it’s different from what the person they are revealing it to expects it to be. The person you reveal it to might accept you, or they might not. And if you’re the person hearing this revelation of how your expectations didn’t turn out like you thought they would, you can choose to accept the person for who they are, or you might create a rift in your relationship. It’s a play about making peace with the world and with the people you love, and it’s about making peace with yourself.

15. What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.

If your life were a play, what genre would it be in, and what would be the title?

If my life were a play, I think it would be a comedic musical called “You’re Probably Not Going To Believe This.” Because life is full of things that are extraordinary, and I’ve found the music and the humor in every experience, pleasant or disappointing or frightening. It’s all there if you dig deep enough.

Thanks so much for sharing!

On a personal note, several months ago Mattie was involved in the most Idaho of Idaho mishaps: a tractor accident.

Don’t worry, she is recovering well.

And now for all things Mattie Rydalch-related: – there’s also a special treat at the end of the list.

You can read a few of her plays on the New Play Exchange.

Here is Mattie’s blog.

An earlier blog with a nice list of earlier works.

Article featuring I Scream, You Scream‘s success at Goshen College’s Peace Play thing. Another article here.

Strange Attractors was a finalist for the David Mark Cohen Playwriting Award. (It’s at the end of the link) – A list of winners here. Even another link.

And a performance here.

That same play made it to The Last Frontier Theatre Conference.

Finding Each Other Dead made it to the same conference, but earlier.

Why’s That Flag Here? heads to the Kennedy Center. And here, too.

Something from a 48 hour theatre festival.

Angst in a short play festival.

The Auburn Crayon performed at the University of Idaho. And also performed at Ashland University.

For a complete list of our playwrights, check here please.

Rydalch’s play I Scream, You Scream reminded me of one of my favorite German musical theatre songs. Be warned, like everything else German, it’s really weird. The title is “Eis im September” – “Ice Cream in September” – this is supposed to be a children’s play. The song is sung by American singer Anita Davis playing the role of Tarantula. Enjoy!