Our first modern playwright hails from North Carolina, USA. Andy Rassler has acted, directed and taught theatre for decades. In the last few years she’s begun to see success as a playwright.
Generally her plays are humorous, positive and carry a message. However, they are by no means saccharine. Rassler’s years as a theatre teacher has informed her understanding of what Theatre for Young Audiences entails and she excels at it.
The first piece we’ll study is Dante’s Inferno Six. Despite focusing on youth plays, this 10 minute play is set in the reception area of the sixth level of Dante’s Hell. This is where heretics end up.
Uberti and Cavalcanti are the two secretaries and basically they are each other’s Hell.
This is from the midst of one of their flare-ups:
Like many American workers, they actively hate their customers/clients, as exemplified here:
Now that I think about it, people going to Hell might be kind of annoying and I would probably grow to hate them. Anyways, this Satanic version of the Battling Bickersons meet their match when their next victim, the heretic Margaret, is totally okay with going to Hell.
Needless to say, Rassler’s Dante’s Inferno Six is a fun play for those who think Hell would be a fun thing. It also highlights something Rassler is adept at: dispelling stereotypes and upending expectations. We, the audience, have been taught to fear Hell (unless you grew up in this church) – yet Margaret is pretty nonchalant about facing that flaming tomb. Ironically, these same flaming tombs have lent themselves to an Xbox game. Here’s a vid of the performance.
Now on the what may be termed Rassler’s magnum opus…
Clothes Minded is a witty, honest one-act that expertly dissects prejudice in America.
The plot pretty much mimics real-life, except with fabrics in a washing machine. All the whites are getting washed together (as they do) when a sock of color shows up. The white fabrics lose it and freak out. However, unlike many real-life scenarios, this play has a happy ending.
Here is a choice moment:
Since all this is set in a washing machine, there are numerous references to swimming, which harkens to not just the past and stereotypes about black people swimming but also the recent spate of “white people calling the cops on black people for living” – most famously Pool Patrol Paula and ID Adam.
This interaction and Colored Sock’s mini-monologue here is effective.
That line “We’re not bad people” is rich. We’ve been hearing it oh-so-often.
The play is peppered with racists’ go-to talking points.
“Jacked-up” is right.
Ah yes. The siren call of eugenics. This is an extreme example of “following the law” – albeit a “natural law” that someone just made up.
Beware, the rag pile. Hehe. Labels can be some dangerous medicine.
So far in this blog, I haven’t talked much about my personal life, but I will share my own experiences growing up in Utah as a non-Mormon (that’s a label!) – the labels I was given ranged from “non-believer” to “Satan worshipper.” [insert about 1,001 other negative experiences here]
Much like the parents in Rassler’s play, this idiocy started with the parents. I heard “My mom says I can’t play with you” more than once. In this way, Rassler’s play spoke to me. The Colored Sock character is way too nice to the neighbors. Lucky for them.
Oh man. This hits the nail on the head. The way some white people will speak in hushed tones about someone who married/had a relationship out of the race.
I was at a museum in Utah once and the lady working there was yapping on about Orrin Porter Rockwell and his multiple wives and at the end she whispered “and his Indian wife.”
And then (gasp!) tragedy happens.
Eventually things work themselves out. This is a well-written play with a positive message and good roles for kids. The play was recently published by YouthPlays.
Now is a chance to learn more about Rassler from the playwright herself:
How did you start playwriting?
I started writing about 10-12 years ago. My theatre class always competes in the 1-act play festival in NC. We were having a really hard time finding a piece that we connected to, so the kids said, “Why don’t you just write one?” So…I tried it. And I loved it so much. We used the piece I wrote (called—pretentiously enough—‘Minor Paradox’)!
What are your influences?
For the cadence and style of dialogue, I attribute my style to Neil Simon, mostly. I don’t know that I’d call any other playwrights ‘influences’.
What is your most memorable production and why?
Of my own pieces, the most memorable was the one-act version of ‘In the Jungle.’ This play was inspired by my twin sister, Annette, who has cerebral palsy. The students who embodied the characters were so dedicated to the piece and when we performed it at the contest, there were many, many audience members in tears. I was approached multiple times afterward with meaningful and thoughtful words—it was magical.
What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]
My least memorable? I don’t remember…lol. No, I can barely remember a 10-minute piece I had produced at a local community theatre. Just didn’t work.
What’s your funniest theatre story?
Of all time? Hmmm…It was not funny at the time, but one of my students pushed me to use actual profanity. He had missed an entrance and I was in the back of the auditorium watching his classmates try to cover for him. I rushed out of the theatre, back to the dressing room, and there he was just yakking it up with his home girls! I said, “You’re on! Now!” and he kind of sauntered toward the door—so I grabbed him (literally) and said, “Get your <$*& butt out there!”—Now, I just shake my head.
What are your writing habits like?
I’m sporadic. Sometimes, I’m writing every free chance I get—then there might be weeks where I don’t write a word. When there’s a deadline looming that I want to submit, I’m gangbusters. I will do all my chores and other things in life, then sit down and dedicate 2-4 hours just to get the words out on the ‘paper’. Outline, write, write. Re-outline, write, write. Rewrite.
What advice do you have for new playwrights?
Don’t be intimidated that there is magic to this craft. There isn’t any magic or specialized something you need to get started. You have a story: tell it. Then you can use all the resources you can find to fine-tune that story.
Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?
How about—Bryan Stubbles?! I have not had the chance to read many ‘unknown’ writers. Sorry.
What are common themes in your work?
Handicapped people, outcasts, people on the fringe.
What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
I wish I knew how important it was to have a network of people to support your work. I feel pretty isolated, but I’m working on building connections.
In regards to Dante Inferno Six, why is Hell so funny?
If it weren’t, it would be devastating. It makes me think of those awful times when you’re not ‘supposed’ to laugh, but if you could, it would help everything.
Please describe the process that created Clothes-minded.
A local community theatre put out a submission opportunity for 10-minute plays with the theme ‘Diversity’. I thought about that theme and all I could think of to write were things that were so corny, or cliché, or I had no business writing them because I know very little about actual diversity. I thought about the concept of segregation—separating by color—and it segued into ‘What else do we separate by color?’=laundry! Ta-da!! Someone at the 10-minute play commented on how weird it was that there were only 3 items in the load, and I thought, “Hey, this would expand to a one-act in a pretty cool way.” Ta-da!!
How are the kids and audiences responding to Clothes-minded?
My students LOOOVED performing it and the audiences were greatly amused. It’s been produced by two other groups (besides mine) already in just a few months, so I’m hopeful it will go places!
What has the feedback from People of Color or other minorities been like?
The cool thing at the very start of this is that I had a person of color playing a white sock. It was wildly cool to have discussions at rehearsal—and audience members were trying to wrap their brains around that concept. I’ve honestly had nothing but positive feedback from everyone who’s seen or been in it.
What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.
Question: What is your ultimate goal as a writer?
Answer: To get productions of as many of my shows as humanly possible and to leave a legacy of meaningful work behind when I go. I know I won’t know it happened, but I’d love for a production of my show to happen 250 years down the road and it’s just as relevant and meaningful as today.
Before I list her productions, do our readers have any questions for Andy? Please comment below.
For a list of all our playwrights, please check here.
Rassler’s work has seen multiple productions, mostly in North Carolina, but also in Minnesota and Germany. Below is a list of plays and productions ( with links to sites or reviews):
September 2014: Walt Grace, One Act New Play Festival. Lee Street Theatre, Salisbury, NC
March 5-6, 2016: Dear Stephen, We Like Short Shorts. Storefront Theatre, Waxhaw, NC
April 7-9, 2016: Kiss A Squid 2016 Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival Winner. Located at the The White Horse in Black Mountain, NC
June 10-19, 2016: A Foot and a Half Old Courthouse Theatre, Concord, NC
June 16-18, 2016: Don’t Bleed on Me, Lee Street Theatre, Salisbury, NC
August 26-27, 2016: Bless Me, Father, Lee Street Theatre, Salisbury, NC
August 25-28, 2016: Number Ten, Old Courthouse Theatre Concord, NC
October 2016: Don’t Bleed on Me, NCHS Entry, NCTC One-Act Play Festival, North Carolina
November 15-16, 2016: I’ll Bet You Didn’t Know Cary Playwrights’ Forum, Cary, NC
December 2016: Star of Wonder, Lee Street Theatre, Salisbury, NC
August 12-13, 2017: I’ll Bet You Didn’t Know, Old Courthouse Theatre Concord, NC
November 14-16, 2017: In Heaven There is No Beer, Cary Playwrights’ Forum, Cary, NC
Two of her plays have been published. Clothes Minded was published by YouthPlays and is available on Amazon.
Andy’s personal website is here.
Another profile of Andy from this year.
Several of her plays are available to read at her New Play Exchange page.