RACHAEL'S CAFE: In Rehearsal
Lucy Danser, writer
In two weeks my debut play Rachael's Café gets its London premiere. Rachael's Café is a true story, so in developing the script I had concerns such as: were the updates in the play mirroring the updates in the real story it was telling? Was I getting the balance right between remaining true to the story and making good, entertaining theatre? Ultimately, and most importantly, what was the real Rachael going to think of the play?
This time three years ago I was sitting on a sofa in the real Rachael's Café in Bloomington, Indiana, where I'd been for a few hours, sipping a mocha and monopolising the café owner Rachael Jones' attention as much as possible in-between her attempts to greet each customer personally, catching up with their lives and ringing up their orders. I'd spent the previous year living in Bloomington and frequenting the café while studying Theatre at the nearby Indiana University. Rachael, a trans woman born Eric Wininger, had opened the café after being turned away from other jobs that would see her come face-to-face with the public on the grounds that she wasn't 'passable' enough as a woman.
From the moment I met Rachael everything about her, her personality, her strength, the amazing oasis she had created for people in this café in the middle of the Bible Belt, captivated me. Far away from my own home Rachael provided a stabilising force for me. Everything about her was at odds with the sexualised, one-dimensional representation of trans individuals I had come across in my life so far, and her willingness to explain rather than snap when people were curious struck me as eminently forward thinking. As a young theatre student I was, inevitably, not content with just spending time with Rachael. I wanted to spread the word! And I've ended up doing this, with Rachael's blessing and full co-operation, through the medium of theatre.
So, just a year after leaving Indiana, I'd flown back to spend two weeks with Rachael. That day, jumping up and approaching the counter I asked, 'So, are we done for today?'. Back then she was still changing before picking up her kids. 'Well, I will grab my boys' clothes and take my make-up off. But you can talk while I do it.' She picked up her bag and strode to the sink with me in tow. The first attempt to switch on the tap covered me in water - 'Sorry for the shower there' - but finally I found somewhere to perch while she wiped off her make-up.
'So? Questions from Lucy?'
There wasn't long left now until I was due to fly home. I'd spent plenty of time asking questions and listening to her stories. She'd told me everything from funny anecdotes to heartbreaking moments and shared her hopes and fears for the future. I wasn't worried about having enough material to fill a play but I was intimidated, wondering whether I was up to the job of committing this personality to paper.
So I asked her what she wanted the play to be like.
'Oh, I don't know, honey. Well, one thing I don't want it to be is sad. I'm not into tragedy. Life should not be a tragedy. Life's an amazing adventure. Even though it has difficulties.'
'Can there be sad bits?'
'Of course, that's life. And it's okay if people laugh at me too. I laugh at myself.'
'Who'd you like to play you?'
'Make it somebody hot! Brad Pitt wants to do it, right? I know Brad wants it. He's called like a million times to beg for the part!' She laughed and followed this up, switching from humorous to serious in her trademark effortless way, with 'Although I suppose it would be better if whoever it was wasn't so good, because I still have struggles, that they're a little uncomfortable maybe, like I am. Overall it should be fun, and it could maybe have a message? To be. To live. We don't live.'
We're a couple of years down the line now and I hope we've done her proud. We'll find out soon. She arrives in London next week and will be sitting in the front row to watch the play on opening night.
RACHAEL'S CAFÉ runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre from Tuesday 25 February - Saturday 15 March 2014. For information and tickets visit www.rachaelscafeplay.com