161: Creative Collaboration and Connection with Rachel Klem, director and educator

Creating collaboratively! Making original work in new ways! It’s all in this conversation between Griffin James and Rachel Klem. They discuss several of Rachel’s original shows, her creative process, working with collaborators, and more in this episode.

BIO:

Rachel Klem (she/her) has been a theatre artist in the Durham/ Chapel Hill/ Raleigh area since 2001. She ran Common Ground Theatre for 10 years and taught and directed at NC State’s University Theatre for 15. Rachel has only recently started learning about the wonderfulness of audio drama and really enjoys the collaborative process that it allows. For ASBX: ASBX Shorts, I’m Not Here Right Now.

LISTEN TO ASBX AUDIO DRAMAS:

Master Builder

The New Colossus

Declaration of Love audio anthology

ASBX Shorts

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Transcript
Tamara Kissane:

This is Artist Soapbox.

Tamara Kissane:

Through interviews and original scripted audio fiction.

Tamara Kissane:

We deliver stories that speak to your hearts and your minds.

Griffin James:

Hey, Artist Soapbox.

Griffin James:

My name is Griffin James.

Griffin James:

And in today's episode, I sat down with my friend and collaborator Rachel Klem.

Griffin James:

Rachel is a theater artist, local to the triangle area.

Griffin James:

She ran Common Ground Theater for 10 years and taught and directed at

Griffin James:

NC State University Theater for 15.

Griffin James:

You might remember her as the director for ASBX shorts and I'M NOT HERE RIGHT

Griffin James:

NOW, all produced here at artist soapbox.

Griffin James:

In addition, Rachel has created multiple original shows, some

Griffin James:

of which are discussed today.

Griffin James:

We talk about creating new work, the creative process, following

Griffin James:

the imagination and more.

Griffin James:

I left my conversation with Rachel feeling inspired to create something

Griffin James:

new and I hope you do as well.

Griffin James:

And I want to thank you all for your time, whether you are listening at

Griffin James:

home in the car or for the first time.

Griffin James:

Welcome to Artis soap box.

Griffin James:

Hello, Rachel, thank you so much for joining me here at

Griffin James:

the artist soapbox podcast.

Griffin James:

How are you

Rachel Klem:

doing?

Rachel Klem:

Thanks for having me Griffin.

Rachel Klem:

I'm doing great.

Rachel Klem:

Thanks for asking

Griffin James:

for anyone who might not be aware, I'm not Tamara

Griffin James:

Kissane . You're not no last, not.

Griffin James:

It would be so much fun if I were, I'm convinced that Tamara is a

Griffin James:

wizard because she is just magical.

Griffin James:

She is very magical.

Griffin James:

I agree, but I am guest hosting for Tamara and in my episodes, I will be talking

Griffin James:

with artists who create original work to learn more about their process and

Griffin James:

how they come to create original work.

Griffin James:

So I would like to just start off by asking.

Griffin James:

How did you get your start in creating your

Rachel Klem:

own work?

Rachel Klem:

Well, I mean, I think I started creating work when I was a kid.

Rachel Klem:

I know I have a picture of me before I was, I may have been four years old and

Rachel Klem:

my sister and her best friend and I, and I had a best friend too, and we made a play

Rachel Klem:

and then we would go around to people's houses and ask if they wanted to see our.

Rachel Klem:

The first play was all about being drunk, which to us, as kids was

Rachel Klem:hilarious in:Rachel Klem:

So that's the play.

Rachel Klem:

I think that's, you know, it started that as early as that.

Rachel Klem:

And I don't, I think I'm trying to think, I think through.

Rachel Klem:

College, mostly I did written work and then almost directly after I got

Rachel Klem:

out of graduate school, I started creating work again for the public

Rachel Klem:

hopefully with better subject matter than just walking around, being

Rachel Klem:

drunk, which is not very funny.

Rachel Klem:

Anyway, you

Griffin James:

have created.

Griffin James:

Such a large body of work and you have hit so many different

Griffin James:

genres and topics of show.

Griffin James:

You have adapted stories to the stage, including Shakespeare and mythology.

Griffin James:

In addition, you have created collaborative pieces of original

Griffin James:

device theater with summer sisters.

Griffin James:

So I was wondering if you could talk a bit about your process as you are creating

Griffin James:

work and how it might change as you are.

Griffin James:

Adapting or working with a group.

Griffin James:

I

Rachel Klem:

think that for me, all of those processes, it's important for

Rachel Klem:

me to have more than one voice in the creating process, in creating stories

Rachel Klem:

for people, for stage or, or if we did some digital stuff, I think because.

Rachel Klem:

Honestly, I feel like I have great ideas, but I don't necessarily write very well.

Rachel Klem:

I feel like I'm a really good writer of structure, but the sort of the.

Rachel Klem:

The poetic nature of language alludes me.

Rachel Klem:

I, I don't trust myself as a writer.

Rachel Klem:

So I think I lean on other people to help me create stuff because I do trust them.

Rachel Klem:

Mm-hmm . And so that collaborative process is really important to

Rachel Klem:

me and it doesn't bother me.

Rachel Klem:

I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything in the creative process,

Rachel Klem:

because I'm not the strongest writer in the group, but I do feel.

Rachel Klem:

I do love the collaborative process.

Rachel Klem:

I love having one saying one thing and having someone riff off of that

Rachel Klem:

and come up with something else.

Rachel Klem:

And you know, that riffing continues until something becomes

Rachel Klem:

really, you know, marvelous.

Rachel Klem:

And of course I did.

Rachel Klem:

I've done a lot of improv in my life, too.

Rachel Klem:

I was trained as an improviser since a teenager.

Rachel Klem:

So I learned a lot about how to build stories.

Rachel Klem:

With multiple voices, multiple voices.

Rachel Klem:

So someone says something and you build on that.

Rachel Klem:

Yes.

Rachel Klem:

And yes.

Rachel Klem:

And yes.

Rachel Klem:

And yes.

Rachel Klem:

And, and for me finding that moment where that, that brilliance happens together

Rachel Klem:

is so much more satisfying than finding that moment of brilliance by myself.

Rachel Klem:

Like that's, anticlimactic once you've figured out how to do it

Rachel Klem:

with several people at a time.

Rachel Klem:

So I think that.

Rachel Klem:

Kind of collaborative building of story and voice has always been part of what I

Griffin James:

do.

Griffin James:

I really love that answer.

Griffin James:

And I know for myself, a lot of writing has been primarily done in solitude and

Griffin James:

I've done a lot of writing courses where we are encouraged to work in solitude.

Griffin James:

Wow.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

But, um, so it's very refreshing to hear a more collaborative process being.

Griffin James:

The thing that works for you.

Griffin James:

Mm-hmm and I find that even when I am writing in solitude, I still, I

Griffin James:

still find that it works best when I do outreach for that, that collaboration.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

Um, a lot of my background is in poetry.

Griffin James:

And even after I write a poem, I feel confident in my own skills

Griffin James:

to assess whether it's good and.

Griffin James:

Needs to be fixed, but sometimes I still just feel so caught up in it

Griffin James:

and I'm too close to the work and I, I need to have someone outside of

Griffin James:

myself, read it to ensure that I'm not missing anything so that I can

Griffin James:

Polish it to the best of its abilities.

Griffin James:

So I, I really love that you.

Griffin James:

Have that integrated into your own

Rachel Klem:

process?

Rachel Klem:

Well, I would say that's how, you know, you're a real writer because

Rachel Klem:

you feel very strongly about your writing with rightfully so.

Rachel Klem:

I mean, you are a beautiful writer, but I, I don't, I can't ever

Rachel Klem:

see anything good in my writing.

Rachel Klem:

So it's always, for me, it's very easy.

Rachel Klem:

It's never precious and it's very easy to let go of any of it.

Rachel Klem:

mm-hmm . Maybe because of my improv background, I'm super easy to,

Rachel Klem:

very easy to me to see a way just to throw it away and start over.

Rachel Klem:

But I think that's how, you know, you are a real writer and, and as having

Rachel Klem:

read your writing, I know that you're a real writer because you can create.

Rachel Klem:

Words, you can use words in a, in a way that I never could

Rachel Klem:

even begin to, to do well.

Rachel Klem:

Thank you.

Griffin James:

I, I really appreciate that.

Rachel Klem:

I have this conversation with Tamara often too.

Rachel Klem:

She says, you're a writer and I'm like, no, you are a writer.

Rachel Klem:

Okay.

Rachel Klem:

I am not.

Rachel Klem:

I'm a storyteller.

Griffin James:

I mean, even with that reframing, I still think

Griffin James:

that's a fun way to think about it.

Griffin James:

Sure.

Griffin James:

And I feel like for some people it could even alleviate the

Griffin James:

pressure of creating stories.

Griffin James:

Like the idea of writing can sometimes sound, uh, so pretentious right.

Griffin James:

And so, I dunno, I, I think that is a beneficial way to reframe it as, not as a

Griffin James:

writer, but as a storyteller, especially if that is what helps you create the work.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

And I mean, I know a lot of people who call themselves

Griffin James:

writers, but they don't have.

Griffin James:

The body of work, you do so honestly, if it works, it works I guess.

Griffin James:

And I commend

Rachel Klem:

it.

Rachel Klem:

That is true.

Rachel Klem:

It is true.

Rachel Klem:

And, and, and it's funny people do, you know, I love your writing.

Rachel Klem:

They say that to me all the time.

Rachel Klem:

And I really just almost always respond with a laugh because I don't

Rachel Klem:

know what to say, but I feel like I lean heavily on my collaborators.

Rachel Klem:

And so that's, I think that's, and that's part of the brilliance.

Rachel Klem:

I think that's part of.

Rachel Klem:

The wonderfulness of it is that we build together.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

One thing I love about your work in particular, and why I really wanted

Griffin James:

to talk to you is that your work incorporates these unconventional

Griffin James:

and bold choices into the show.

Griffin James:

Uh, the two examples that come to mind are Trailer Park Christmas and Argo.

Griffin James:

, uh, I wanna circle back to Argo in a minute.

Griffin James:

But for people who are not familiar Trailer Park Christmas incorporates

Griffin James:

this immersive element where the audience enters the theater through the

Griffin James:

set and the actors continue to engage with the audience throughout the show.

Griffin James:

I'm wondering how these ideas came about.

Griffin James:

Was the show written with, with that in mind, or is that something

Griffin James:

that was integrated later on?

Rachel Klem:

Well, see, here, here, I'm gonna.

Rachel Klem:

Dispel any kind of, you know, awe you might feel, I stole that idea.

Rachel Klem:

there was a wonderful comedy group in San Francisco called Fatel bologna.

Rachel Klem:

And there was a group of four guys who did improv and they did a lot of

Rachel Klem:

classic clowning, uh, shows for people.

Rachel Klem:

And they wrote this play called the Weber family Christmas, and it was set

Rachel Klem:

in their home and the audience came through the door and they were greeted

Rachel Klem:

and they were given snacks and all of that was stolen, stolen, stolen.

Rachel Klem:

when I first moved to, when I opened up common ground theater,

Rachel Klem:

we needed a Christmas show.

Rachel Klem:

So I wrote the brothers cuz I know them.

Rachel Klem:

From San Francisco and asked if we could do their show and they sent

Rachel Klem:

the show to me, allowed me to have the rights to do it, but I felt like

Rachel Klem:

it didn't suit the area very well.

Rachel Klem:

It was about the second coming of, of the Lord, of the king.

Rachel Klem:

And at the end it was.

Rachel Klem:

Elvis , which is a very funny play.

Rachel Klem:

It's a very funny play, but it didn't quite suit us.

Rachel Klem:

So I went ahead and yeah, stole the idea and , at that point, I knew Jeffrey Moore.

Rachel Klem:

We were doing improv together and I asked him if he wanted to help me

Rachel Klem:

write a play, because he seemed like I wanted to set it in North Carolina.

Rachel Klem:

I really feel like.

Rachel Klem:

That's been a part of entertainment that I've always found really fun

Rachel Klem:

is if the people feel connected to it on a personal level.

Rachel Klem:

So I felt like setting it in North Carolina in the west side of

Rachel Klem:

Durham, in Common Ground Theater, we were running Common Ground

Rachel Klem:

Theater needed our Christmas show.

Rachel Klem:

So I worked with Jeffrey Moore because he's most north Carolina person.

Rachel Klem:

I know.

Rachel Klem:

And we, um, we took that premise so solely that premise of arriving

Rachel Klem:

to someone's home for Christmas party and made it North Carolina.

Rachel Klem:

So it became a trailer park.

Rachel Klem:

Jeffrey Moore grew up in a trailer park and it became the people that

Rachel Klem:

we know here in North Carolina, which I felt would connect a lot

Rachel Klem:

more to our audiences, which it did.

Rachel Klem:

I.

Rachel Klem:

You know, we did 11, 12 years.

Rachel Klem:

I think.

Rachel Klem:

So.

Rachel Klem:

Even the

Griffin James:

idea of stealing within the art specifically,

Griffin James:

that feels less like a taboo.

Griffin James:

I mean, I know there's a book out there called steal, like an artist and a

Griffin James:

lot of my education as a writer came from Dorian locks who used to teach

Griffin James:

with MC state university, but she would tell us all the time that you.

Griffin James:

Probably never write anything, truly original everything under the sun

Griffin James:

has probably already been said.

Griffin James:

And the most that we can do is apply our own perspective and our own vision to it.

Griffin James:

And even if the idea was for trailer park, Christmas was stolen.

Griffin James:

It still feels like you were able to put your own perspective and

Griffin James:

your own viewpoint through it.

Griffin James:

And you were able to accomplish something new with this idea that already existed.

Rachel Klem:

Right.

Rachel Klem:

And of course there's no new ideas under the sun.

Rachel Klem:

I mean, mm-hmm, , I don't know where they got the idea from.

Rachel Klem:

As like I said, they are, um, they did a lot of very common

Rachel Klem:

ancient, comedic tropes.

Rachel Klem:

So they, they themselves were, you know, we all beg, borrow and steel and.

Rachel Klem:

You can tell, I mean, just reading Shakespeare, you can see all the stories.

Rachel Klem:

Right.

Rachel Klem:

So . Mm.

Rachel Klem:

So yeah, so I didn't feel, I don't feel bad about it.

Rachel Klem:

No, I don't.

Rachel Klem:

I feel like, yeah.

Rachel Klem:

I took an idea and made it our own, which is what I've I think all artists do.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

And it, and I mean, it resonated with a lot of people.

Griffin James:

I know myself, I.

Griffin James:

Absolutely loved Trailer Park Christmas.

Rachel Klem:

see.

Rachel Klem:

All I can do is laugh.

Griffin James:

and I mean, I don't know.

Griffin James:

I've lived in North Carolina most of my life, and I briefly

Griffin James:

lived in a trailer park.

Griffin James:

So maybe.

Griffin James:

My experiences are just biased.

Rachel Klem:

well, that's what the, what was the hope when we wrote the

Rachel Klem:

play is that people would connect to it on a personal level and that our,

Rachel Klem:

yes, our own biases of being in North Carolina, we could laugh about that.

Rachel Klem:

We could have fun with it.

Rachel Klem:

Mm-hmm there was not a mean, there's no mean spiritedness in that show,

Rachel Klem:

which is part of what I love about it.

Rachel Klem:

And part of Jeffrey Moore, you know, he sees his people.

Rachel Klem:

I mean, I come from somewhere else, so I had to rely on him, but he

Rachel Klem:

sees his people with so much love.

Rachel Klem:

And that that's that joy I'm talking about being in the room with him,

Rachel Klem:

riffing on, you know, making fun of his people is, is so wonderful to me.

Rachel Klem:

That's, that's the collaboration

Griffin James:

I love.

Griffin James:

And so to segue, to Argo that I feel like was one of the most unique pieces of

Griffin James:

theater I saw to come out of the pandemic.

Griffin James:

I feel like a lot of theaters ran right to Zoom and stayed there.

Griffin James:

And, and there isn't anything wrong with that.

Griffin James:

I, I saw a lot of good zoom theater.

Griffin James:

Sure.

Griffin James:

But Argo just took an entirely different approach to creating.

Griffin James:

And it was just so fascinating for me.

Griffin James:

I was wondering if you could briefly describe that process.

Rachel Klem:

Yes.

Rachel Klem:

So Argo was the, the thing that happened with Argo was we would, we

Rachel Klem:

were just trying to keep up with COVID restrictions as they were coming.

Rachel Klem:

So I had seven or eight different outlines for that show.

Rachel Klem:

First one, we were gonna do a full.

Rachel Klem:

Scale production, Mary Zimmerman show mm-hmm and then it, it just

Rachel Klem:

slowly got whittled back and back.

Rachel Klem:

We were just gonna have six people on stage in little pods, and then,

Rachel Klem:

and then we realized we couldn't do Zimmerman's play at all.

Rachel Klem:

It was just too big.

Rachel Klem:

So I, I offered to adapt a script adjacent and the Argonaut script.

Rachel Klem:

I wrote that.

Rachel Klem:

I think I adapted it in four or five days.

Rachel Klem:

Oh, wow.

Rachel Klem:

Yes.

Rachel Klem:

But I had a great source.

Rachel Klem:

I mean, that's, that's the important thing about adaptation is you

Rachel Klem:

have to have a great source.

Rachel Klem:

So I had this source that had a lot of dialogue in it, and I felt like

Rachel Klem:

the language was very approachable.

Rachel Klem:

It was a children's book about the different Greek myths and

Rachel Klem:

the Argonauts was one of them.

Rachel Klem:

And so.

Rachel Klem:

So that was, that made it easy.

Rachel Klem:

So I did write it very quickly and then felt like that Polish was not there.

Rachel Klem:

And then , so that's where Tamara came in and I invited Tamara to come

Rachel Klem:

in and, and be the writer in the room as opposed to the structurist.

Rachel Klem:

And so then the idea was that we would do a audio play.

Rachel Klem:

We had Tamara on board and she's, you know, she's the queen of all of this.

Rachel Klem:

So I thought, you know, I love to figure out what skills and gifts we

Rachel Klem:

have in the room and then go with them.

Rachel Klem:

So it became an audio play.

Rachel Klem:

And then.

Rachel Klem:

My daughter here again, here's where I was inspired or where I stole my daughter was

Rachel Klem:

in a play at high school and they moved to an audio play as well or a zoom play.

Rachel Klem:

Uh, they were gonna, most of the students did zoom plays, but one her director

Rachel Klem:

decided to draw pictures of the actors.

Rachel Klem:

So they tape the actors doing audio and then the, this high

Rachel Klem:

school student drew pictures.

Rachel Klem:

And I'm like, okay, that's brilliant.

Rachel Klem:

Can we add something like this to Argo?

Rachel Klem:

And then also I was inspired by a short that was on Netflix at the time.

Rachel Klem:

and I don't remember the series itself, what it's called, but it was

Rachel Klem:

about queen Elizabeth and the Pope, and they were just little dolls and

Rachel Klem:

they, they did the audio and then these dolls acted out the audio and.

Rachel Klem:

I love that idea.

Rachel Klem:

I had done a show I'd written a show years before where I wrote out the

Rachel Klem:

audio and then took pictures of Barbies.

Rachel Klem:

So that seemed all that kind of like, how can we use this audio, but

Rachel Klem:

then create a visual element to it.

Rachel Klem:

Knowing that one person couldn't do an hour, 10 piece

Rachel Klem:

all by themselves, visually.

Rachel Klem:

Although, I mean, we did actually talk about the set designer at NC

Rachel Klem:

state, Jayme Mellema doing, you know, a design for the whole show.

Rachel Klem:

Decided that was way too much work for one person.

Rachel Klem:

So then we decided to split it up and find student designers to do that work.

Rachel Klem:

So, yeah, it was just really a process of, um, problem solving process, which

Rachel Klem:

I think the making theater is a lot.

Rachel Klem:

It's just, oh, we've hit a wall.

Rachel Klem:

How do we get over it?

Rachel Klem:

How do we get around it?

Rachel Klem:

How do we lean against it for a while?

Rachel Klem:

All that kind of stuff.

Griffin James:

And I think one thing that I really appreciated about the

Griffin James:

process you took with Argo was the way in which it was able to invite new

Griffin James:

artists into the industry and into this creative process of putting on a show.

Griffin James:

I remember when I was directing my first play.

Griffin James:

That ended up not happening.

Griffin James:

Thanks to this funny little thing called COVID . I remember I was talking

Griffin James:

to my actress, Reagan and I asked her like, do you think you will do

Griffin James:

more theater after this production?

Griffin James:

And she, she said she was unsure.

Griffin James:

She would like to, but she also wanted to focus a bit more on her visual

Griffin James:

art, cuz that was another piece of.

Griffin James:

Artistic identity that was important to her.

Griffin James:

And then I saw that she was going to be one of the visual artists for Argo.

Griffin James:

Yes.

Griffin James:

And I, I just got so excited cuz I'm like, ah, this is exactly

Griffin James:

what she wanted to pursue.

Griffin James:

And now she was, and there was a way for her to do both at the same time.

Griffin James:

And I was so happy that there were new avenues for artists to

Griffin James:

be involved with the program.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

And to put on these shows.

Rachel Klem:

Yeah.

Rachel Klem:

And her work was amazing.

Rachel Klem:

And I mean, all of the artists' work was amazing and I was.

Rachel Klem:

I was blown away actually by the artistry, their artistry just was really above and

Rachel Klem:

beyond what I thought was gonna happen.

Rachel Klem:

I think that sometimes people think young people are not gonna be accomplished or

Rachel Klem:

insightful, or, you know, they're gonna be, their work is gonna be immature.

Rachel Klem:

And this.

Rachel Klem:

Project completely proved that wrong that was some of the most mature, artistic,

Rachel Klem:

creative design work I'd seen, you know, it was just some really amazing stuff.

Rachel Klem:

And Reagan's drawing ability was amazing.

Griffin James:

No, I, I absolutely agree.

Griffin James:

I just remember it being blown out of the water by it.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

And just so fascinated by the modality that was taken.

Rachel Klem:

Yep.

Rachel Klem:

And one of the, think one of the stances we had to take for that project to be

Rachel Klem:

successful was that it was process based that it was really about finding our way.

Rachel Klem:

It wasn't about how it was gonna end up.

Rachel Klem:

I had to remind people many times to let go of the end product.

Rachel Klem:

Like, what if it's not good?

Rachel Klem:

We're in the middle of a pandemic.

Rachel Klem:

It doesn't matter.

Rachel Klem:

We're doing the work.

Rachel Klem:

It doesn't have to be good.

Rachel Klem:

. Griffin James: And I, I mean, I

Rachel Klem:

encourages a new sense of adaptability.

Rachel Klem:

Yeah.

Rachel Klem:

That is very important for people to learn.

Rachel Klem:

But I'm curious, is there anything you learned about theater or about

Rachel Klem:

creating through the process of Argo that you might not have learned through

Rachel Klem:

quote traditional

Rachel Klem:

show?

Rachel Klem:

What I learned through that process was how important creating and making art is.

Rachel Klem:

I learned that the most wonderful thing about Argo was

Rachel Klem:

that everybody came in with.

Rachel Klem:

The spirit of creation and the spirit of letting go of product.

Rachel Klem:

And even though we had to remind ourselves several times throughout, I think that

Rachel Klem:

what it really proved to me different than other plays, which are on, on a schedule

Rachel Klem:

on a really tight schedule in the head.

Rachel Klem:

There's really high expectations of how it's going to be.

Rachel Klem:

Even if you're trying something new, even if you're trying to think out

Rachel Klem:

of the box, there's still so many parameters of traditional theater.

Rachel Klem:

I'm gonna put quotes around traditional, but of, you know, Standard written

Rachel Klem:

piece that you put on stage.

Rachel Klem:

I think we didn't really know what we were doing.

Rachel Klem:

So we were really free in that way.

Rachel Klem:

I think that the fact that we focused on process allowed for a lot of

Rachel Klem:

freedom and pure creativity, which is something that I always found.

Rachel Klem:

We can talk about Summer Sisters in a second.

Rachel Klem:

Cuz I always found like with Summer Sisters we found this pure creativity.

Rachel Klem:

I felt like with Argo, we found.

Rachel Klem:

Pure creativity because there was no, there was no box to be in, you know,

Rachel Klem:

we were making it up as we went along.

Rachel Klem:

And even if we had an expert like Tamara on board, it didn't mean

Rachel Klem:

that , it didn't mean that there were any, any rules to follow.

Rachel Klem:

So I think that that part was, I learned a lot about this sort of.

Rachel Klem:

Creating in a free fall mm-hmm . And I also learned a lot about how important

Rachel Klem:

creating is to, to the human spirit.

Rachel Klem:

, you know, as creators and I'm sure you felt this way when you, your

Rachel Klem:

play didn't get to perform when you're putting that energy in.

Rachel Klem:

And then I think for creative people, when there's no place to put that

Rachel Klem:

energy, We become very depressed and , you know, don't fit in the world.

Rachel Klem:

That's how we fit into the world.

Rachel Klem:

So what I was really struck by was the need for people to create for

Rachel Klem:

these people to have an outlet.

Rachel Klem:

I think a lot of us felt that way in COVID, but the people really needed

Rachel Klem:

someplace to put that part of themselves.

Rachel Klem:

And that is one of the biggest takeaways I have.

Rachel Klem:

That's a

Griffin James:

very beautiful answer.

Griffin James:

Thank you.

Griffin James:

Yeah, sure.

Rachel Klem:

You

Rachel Klem:

just made it up.

Griffin James:

Well, I loved it definitely resonated with me.

Rachel Klem:

no, no, it's it was true.

Rachel Klem:

Even still, as we're coming back to teaching classes, putting on plays

Rachel Klem:

that you can tell people need it.

Rachel Klem:

People want it, people are there for it.

Rachel Klem:

And it's it's I think we take it for granted.

Rachel Klem:

Don't we just like anything else.

Rachel Klem:

We take our creative process for granted and it's not until, you know, We can't

Rachel Klem:

do it that we realize, oh, this is, this is, you know, a huge part of me

Griffin James:

kind of on topic of thinking outside of the box

Griffin James:

and working on shows where the box is entirely eliminated.

Griffin James:

I feel like a lot of.

Griffin James:

Early career artists or how, even, even people later in their careers who

Griffin James:

create original content, they might have these bold or unconventional

Griffin James:

ideas, but might be nervous to try them out or to put them to page.

Griffin James:

I know a lot of playwrights who shy away from some of these ideas because they want

Griffin James:

to be quote, unquote, more producible.

Griffin James:

With that in mind.

Griffin James:

I'm wondering what advice you might give to these people.

Griffin James:

Do you have any practices that you turn to, to ignore that voice of

Griffin James:

doubt in the back of your mind?

Rachel Klem:

Yeah.

Rachel Klem:

I think that in the creative process, judgment is not necessarily helpful.

Rachel Klem:

I often find myself, I think I think of myself as being a very self-judgment

Rachel Klem:

person and I practice techniques to.

Rachel Klem:

Excuse the judge from the room.

Rachel Klem:

Hmm.

Rachel Klem:

And let that, that part of my brain sort of shut down, at least in the beginning,

Rachel Klem:

especially with those preliminary ideas.

Rachel Klem:

I just think there are no bad ideas.

Rachel Klem:

There are no bad starts.

Rachel Klem:

And getting started is often the hardest part.

Rachel Klem:

So I, I excuse the judge, I say, okay, you know what?

Rachel Klem:

It's not gonna be good.

Rachel Klem:

I don't.

Rachel Klem:

It may be, you know, I might be stealing a bunch of ideas.

Rachel Klem:

I don't care.

Rachel Klem:

You know, it might not sound the way I want may not go the way I want, but I

Rachel Klem:

think that just allowing myself to be in a place where that kind of judgment

Rachel Klem:

doesn't matter and that's not easy.

Rachel Klem:

I do actual exercise where I visualize my judge and open the door and let

Rachel Klem:

her leave and then shut the door.

Rachel Klem:

So, I mean, that's, that's a physical exercise.

Rachel Klem:

I actually have done with myself, but I think it's got been writing

Rachel Klem:

or putting ideas to paper long enough that, that judge, and again,

Rachel Klem:

back to improv, because if you've done enough improv, you learn to.

Rachel Klem:

Let it go.

Rachel Klem:

You learn to let theater be ephemeral right in the moment

Rachel Klem:

and doesn't have to be the first iteration is not gonna be permanent.

Rachel Klem:

So I think those kind of ideas really help help me.

Rachel Klem:

I do have this feeling I get when I come across a really good idea.

Rachel Klem:

And I don't know what that is or how to explain it, except for that, I get

Rachel Klem:

really excited and I'm like, oh yeah, you know, and then my mind starts

Rachel Klem:

popping and I start, you know, really thinking about things that's happened

Rachel Klem:

about four or five times in my life.

Rachel Klem:

Trailer park

Rachel Klem:

christmas was one of those.

Rachel Klem:

But I think that there, yeah, there's something that.

Rachel Klem:

I think the impetus getting started is the most important part.

Rachel Klem:

And if you can, if you can allow yourself not to get in the way

Rachel Klem:

, that's the, the best you can do.

Griffin James:

I love that, especially just the physical act of getting up.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

And kicking the judge out.

Rachel Klem:

kicking her out.

Rachel Klem:

Yeah.

Rachel Klem:

I had a wonderful acting teacher who taught me

Griffin James:

that and also just the, the idea of getting it out and

Griffin James:

acknowledging that it can be reiterated and changed and adopted if necessary.

Rachel Klem:

Well, the first one's not gonna be good.

Rachel Klem:

I just don't think the first for me, the first thing that goes down, the

Rachel Klem:

idea might be good, but the whatever comes from it is, is, is not gonna good

Rachel Klem:

because I think it happens with the brain.

Rachel Klem:

For me, at least with ideas is that my brain starts at the surface.

Rachel Klem:

And then as I start to think about it or research it or right

Rachel Klem:

about it, or do whatever my brain gets to a deeper place with.

Rachel Klem:

So I can't expect where I started to be anywhere, except for the surface I

Rachel Klem:

have to scratch and scratch and dig and dream about what's under the surface.

Rachel Klem:

So there's no way for me in my process that the first parts, the first

Rachel Klem:

iteration's gonna be the right iteration.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

And as you are putting these to page and reworking them, do you

Griffin James:

do anything to keep yourself.

Griffin James:

On a certain schedule, like, do you self-imposed deadlines or where are you

Griffin James:

already in collaboration with people?

Griffin James:

So you need to get them to it by X time.

Rachel Klem:

Both.

Rachel Klem:

I am often under a, yes, a collaborative deadline, but I'm also pretty, I was

Rachel Klem:

gonna say strict with myself, but maybe disciplined is a better word.

Rachel Klem:

I do set myself up to get something done by a certain day.

Rachel Klem:

I set my own deadlines that comes from, I think, from.

Rachel Klem:

Running common ground theater and having to be the only person who

Rachel Klem:

being the only person working there.

Rachel Klem:

And everything depends on me.

Rachel Klem:

So I, I got pretty good at setting up multi schedules

Rachel Klem:

for myself and following them.

Rachel Klem:

I also know that when it comes time to hit the writing, I procrastinate.

Rachel Klem:

Mm-hmm I hate it.

Rachel Klem:

It feels like going out to, you know, to take a run or exercise.

Rachel Klem:

I mean, it really feels like.

Rachel Klem:

A discipline.

Rachel Klem:

It really feels like I have something eating well, I don't

Rachel Klem:

know all of those things.

Rachel Klem:

It's something I have to do.

Rachel Klem:

Mm-hmm have to make myself do, and I might not enjoy it as I'm doing it

Rachel Klem:

either, but I do enjoy, I do appreciate the discipline and, and getting the work

Rachel Klem:

done, getting further along, or as far as long as I set up for myself to get,

Griffin James:

I think, a lot about Dorothy Parker as I'm writing, she has.

Griffin James:

Quote, it might be one of my favorite quotes ever.

Griffin James:

She once said something along the lines of, I hate writing,

Griffin James:

but I love having written.

Griffin James:

Yes.

Griffin James:

Uh, and that that's me to a tee cause like I call myself a writer and like,

Griffin James:

I've a degree in English, creative writing , but at the same time, forcing myself to

Griffin James:

sit down and physically write is one of the hardest parts of the entire process.

Griffin James:

That's painful.

Griffin James:

Ugh.

Griffin James:

So painful.

Griffin James:

And I tried to ask people about their own schedule system because,

Griffin James:

uh, One thing I'm finding is that solitary doesn't work quite as well.

Griffin James:

For me, mm-hmm I work better when I am in collaboration because I

Griffin James:

can set my own deadlines and I will ignore it because who the hell is he

Griffin James:

But, um, right.

Griffin James:

But if it's someone outside of myself, there's this.

Griffin James:

Obligation or added responsibility to get the pages to them on time.

Griffin James:

Sure.

Griffin James:

And I find that works better for me, but I'm always just interested

Griffin James:

in how people are able to put their pages out because that's just

Griffin James:

something I struggle with personally.

Rachel Klem:

Yeah, absolutely.

Rachel Klem:

Yeah.

Rachel Klem:

I think it's always helpful to have someone to keep you, keep you on track or.

Rachel Klem:

Keep you to your word, for sure.

Rachel Klem:

So

Griffin James:

to segue into a bit of a, a, a new topic in trailer park

Griffin James:

Christmas, you have this beautiful moment where you pass out macaroni boxes and

Griffin James:

you hand them to the audience to use as instruments at the end of the song.

Griffin James:

Your character tells the audience to keep the macaroni.

Griffin James:

If they are in need of food.

Griffin James:

I still think about that and how it is a subtle way to give back

Griffin James:

and to talk about poverty without making it a direct confrontation.

Griffin James:

Mm-hmm I, I kind of wanna shift gears to talk about tools big or

Griffin James:

small that we can incorporate into our work to address social issues.

Rachel Klem:

Yeah, that's a big question.

Griffin James:

No pressure.

Rachel Klem:

how can we change the world with art?

Rachel Klem:

no pressure.

Rachel Klem:

um, that idea came to me because I had done that again.

Rachel Klem:

We did that show for lots of years, and those were improvised moments.

Rachel Klem:

Although I would settle on a funny line for those moments, for people who haven't

Rachel Klem:

seen this show, we hand out snacks, we interact with the audience, but this is

Rachel Klem:

a dancing moment where they're shaking the macaroni and cheese like maracas

Rachel Klem:

and I had some sort of funny line that I said for years.

Rachel Klem:

And then I was reading $2 a day, which is a book about poverty.

Rachel Klem:

And we were talking about food scarcity in, at university

Rachel Klem:

theater at North Carolina state.

Rachel Klem:

So it was on my mind.

Rachel Klem:

And that's sort of, that's sort of the same way I'm talking about writing.

Rachel Klem:

It's like, as I'm absorbing information from other places, it was just on my mind.

Rachel Klem:

And I thought I'll just put that in the, I'll just say that, you know, you

Rachel Klem:

can take that home if you're not gonna have something for Christmas dinner,

Rachel Klem:

go ahead and take that home again.

Rachel Klem:

That shows intention is with all the love and the heart that we created that

Rachel Klem:

show with all the love in our heart.

Rachel Klem:

So that specific line did come from me, acknowledging.

Rachel Klem:

Our people live in a trailer park and you know, but also acknowledging

Rachel Klem:

that there might be someone for real in the audience who, who might

Rachel Klem:

need a box of Macon and cheese.

Rachel Klem:

How do we change the world through art?

Rachel Klem:

I think that comedy of course, is always a wonderful in road to be

Rachel Klem:

able to laugh at our vulnerabilities.

Rachel Klem:

I think we're all vulnerable.

Rachel Klem:

And I think that one of the beautiful thing, beautiful things

Rachel Klem:

about trailer park Christmas is we, we laugh at the vulnerabilities

Rachel Klem:

of being North Carolinian.

Rachel Klem:

We laugh at, you know, our own particular group of foibles, which

Rachel Klem:

again, I love and I feel like brings people much closer together.

Rachel Klem:

So comedy is a great way to do that.

Rachel Klem:

Um, I don't know.

Rachel Klem:

I don't know, doing improv, that kind of stuff comes up all the time, where you

Rachel Klem:

process the world around you, you know, you're doing a scene and it's about.

Rachel Klem:

A divorce and of course you're using what you know.

Rachel Klem:

And so that works its way into your improv.

Rachel Klem:

I guess I think that as an artist, it's my job to filter, filter that the

Rachel Klem:

struggles that humans have and present it in a way that we can talk about it.

Rachel Klem:

So for me, it's sort of like one of the is probably the main spark of

Rachel Klem:

creativity is connection, human connection through the good stuff and the bad

Rachel Klem:

stuff, acknowledging the bad stuff.

Griffin James:

I really like how, even after you have worked on trailer park

Griffin James:

Christmas for many years, you still find moments of opportunity to adjust

Griffin James:

it, to incorporate moments such as that and how you allow yourself to be.

Griffin James:

Almost permeable.

Rachel Klem:

Yeah.

Rachel Klem:

I think of myself as a bit of a sponge.

Rachel Klem:

I soak stuff up.

Rachel Klem:

I remember a lot of things.

Rachel Klem:

Like they just stick in my brain.

Rachel Klem:

And so I feel like I have a, a catalog of ideas to kind of pull from as I go along.

Griffin James:

Mm-hmm . I think with the idea of allowing not only yourself to

Griffin James:

be absorbent to new information and to allow the work to be permeable by nature.

Griffin James:

I feel like that is something that could be really applicable

Griffin James:

to the industry itself.

Griffin James:

I know.

Griffin James:

Pre pandemic a sentence I heard a lot was, uh, well, this is

Griffin James:

how it's always been done.

Griffin James:

Yes.

Griffin James:

And so they just wanna maintain that status quo and to uphold

Griffin James:

that, that tradition and the structure is already in place.

Griffin James:

Mm-hmm, just out of peer convenience, but I really appreciate that,

Griffin James:

that adaptability and flexibility you provide for your work and

Griffin James:

for a trailer park Christmas.

Griffin James:

And I feel like a lot of companies could benefit just from the idea.

Griffin James:

Being willing to change and to be open to that change.

Rachel Klem:

Yeah.

Rachel Klem:

I mean, I, I agree with you.

Rachel Klem:

I just feel like, I mean, the one, one of the good things about COVID, if one

Rachel Klem:

can say that one of the good things about COVID is that we really have started.

Rachel Klem:

More people, not that plenty of people have already been doing this work, but

Rachel Klem:

more people are really investigating the way we create theater specifically, which

Rachel Klem:

is, is very harmful in its practice.

Rachel Klem:

And I think that the TV and movie industry is very harmful in its practice and

Rachel Klem:

realizing that pumping entertainment out.

Rachel Klem:

Is not as important as people's health mm-hmm, , it's not as

Rachel Klem:

important as artist resiliency.

Rachel Klem:

And I'm hoping that we other people, but I, I particularly am really committed to

Rachel Klem:

finding ways to that we can create content without losing our health and ourself.

Rachel Klem:

It's not, I don't think it's conducive to putting out good art.

Rachel Klem:

Yeah.

Rachel Klem:

I feel really strongly about that right now.

Rachel Klem:

And.

Rachel Klem:

One of the things I do wanna go back to summer sisters, because one of

Rachel Klem:

the great things about summer sisters when Tamara and I first devised it

Rachel Klem:

was that we really wanted to work with women who may have had families

Rachel Klem:

who had jobs, who were, we knew were creative beings, but may have had these.

Rachel Klem:

Scheduling or life challenges that made it really hard.

Rachel Klem:

So we looked to create a very casual and comfortable place where we could, where

Rachel Klem:

these women that we knew existed in our community that were really brilliant.

Rachel Klem:

Artists could come without the punitive or the.

Rachel Klem:

You know, the strict measures that come with theater, you

Rachel Klem:

have to be here every day.

Rachel Klem:

Every time you have to, you know, memorize this amount of stuff.

Rachel Klem:

So we really created it in a way to allow for, to, to break out of that

Rachel Klem:

the way everyone's always done it.

Rachel Klem:

Which I think was really wonderful in some ways.

Rachel Klem:

And we, we got a lot of work done.

Rachel Klem:

We did find in other ways it was hard because if we didn't have that strict

Rachel Klem:

discipline that sometimes we wouldn't have anybody show up and then it

Rachel Klem:

would know then we'd have several weeks where it'd be just the two of us.

Rachel Klem:

So there there's, there's some.

Rachel Klem:

Fine tuning.

Rachel Klem:

But I think that ultimately for theater to survive this break, this

Rachel Klem:

COVID, we have to just reimagine it.

Rachel Klem:

I don't wanna do it the old way.

Rachel Klem:

I'm not interested in feeling pressure and not sleeping and eating, not

Rachel Klem:

eating and, you know, losing my mind.

Rachel Klem:

Oh, it's only for a month.

Rachel Klem:

Well, you know, if you're doing that six or seven times a year, that's too.

Rachel Klem:

And I feel like, I feel like the processes that we do with theater

Rachel Klem:

are really tied into Broadway.

Rachel Klem:

Yeah.

Rachel Klem:

And the structure that they have, because they only have their theater for, you

Rachel Klem:

know, a week before they do the shows.

Rachel Klem:

So when we're in an educational situation where we have the theater

Rachel Klem:

all the time, why do we have to plug, why do we have to squish it

Rachel Klem:

all into one week or one weekend, to be honest, why do we, why do we do.

Rachel Klem:

So hopefully other people are really interested in looking at new ways and

Rachel Klem:

I know they are they're out there.

Rachel Klem:

I've, I've met them them, and I've seen them.

Rachel Klem:

And of course, none of this, even the fact that we're talking about

Rachel Klem:

being new and thinking out of the box, it's not, some people have

Rachel Klem:

been doing this kind of work for.

Rachel Klem:

Ever.

Griffin James:

Yeah, I am sure that we could continue this conversation

Griffin James:

for hours and I really hope not only you and I, but other people

Griffin James:

continue to have these conversations.

Griffin James:

Yeah.

Griffin James:

I really believe that they are important to have and essential, but, um, as we wrap

Griffin James:

up, I do wanna check in and ask if there's anything else you wanted to talk about.

Rachel Klem:

I would like to thank you.

Rachel Klem:

And I also wanna thank Tamara who asked me to do this podcast

Rachel Klem:

lots and lots of years ago.

Rachel Klem:

First, when she first started and I was not in a good place as an artist,

Rachel Klem:

and I had just gone through a divorce and a major death in my family.

Rachel Klem:

And, uh, my self-esteem was really low and I appreciated

Rachel Klem:

her asking and I appreciated her

Rachel Klem:

understanding that there's sometimes that we can't talk about our

Rachel Klem:

art and we need to take a break.

Rachel Klem:

And so I think that what I would say.

Rachel Klem:

If anybody else feels those lulls, those, those lows and highs of

Rachel Klem:

creativity, especially if you're, when you're in that low part that

Rachel Klem:

I think we all go through it.

Rachel Klem:

And at least personally, I understand.

Rachel Klem:

And I hope that if someone's feeling that way, knowing that

Rachel Klem:

for me, that was six years ago or so that it, it does get better.

Rachel Klem:

I dunno if anyone needs to hear that, but.

Rachel Klem:

Here.

Rachel Klem:

I am six years after being asked to do this podcast the first time.

Rachel Klem:

And I'm I'm here and I'm I'm doing it.

Rachel Klem:

So I just, I wanted to bring that up and thank both you and Tamara for continuing

Rachel Klem:

to hold me in your in your thoughts as an artist as I come out of a slump.

Griffin James:

And I wanna thank you just for agreeing to be here and for doing

Griffin James:

this and just for sharing so openly and vulnerably, I feel honored to be able to

Griffin James:

have conversations such as this with you.

Griffin James:

You are an artist whose work I greatly admire, and to be able to speak

Griffin James:

with you and to collaborate with you has just been such an honor for me.

Rachel Klem:

Thank you.

Rachel Klem:

And I am honored to work with you and know you too.

Rachel Klem:

what

Griffin James:

me as you stop.

Griffin James:

Tell me more

Rachel Klem:

Griffin

Rachel Klem:

mutual fan club,

Griffin James:

honestly, though.

Griffin James:

What a, what a, what a great place to end on.

Griffin James:

Yeah, just a, a moment of mutual love.

Griffin James:

yes.

Tamara Kissane:Established in:Tamara Kissane:

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Artist Soapbox produces original scripted audio fiction and an ongoing interview

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We cultivate aspiring audio Dramatists and producers, and we partner with

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Artist Soapbox

Artist Soapbox is a platform for original scripted audio fiction and an opportunity for artists to discuss their creative work in their own voices. We do this through our interview podcast, our blog, and original audio dramas.

Artist Soapbox is an anti-racist organization. We believe Black Lives Matter. In addition, as an audio production company, ASBX has signed the Equality in Audio Pact on Broccoli Content.

Artist Soapbox is more than just an interview podcast.

We lead writers groups, accountability support, events, and workshops. We create and produce audio dramas too! Listen to the Master BuilderThe New Colossus Audio Drama, Declaration of Love, and ASBX Shorts. Stay tuned to hear about more projects written by the Soapbox Audio Collective Writers’ Group.

Artist Soapbox is about Empowerment & Connection.

Artist Soapbox was founded on the belief that if we (humans/artists) talk with each other, and if we LISTEN to each other, then we’ll make better art. We’ll form a stronger community. We’ll feel more empowered and less alone.

Artist Soapbox goes deep into the creative process.

On Artist Soapbox podcast, artists in the Triangle are invited to put words around their creative journeys and processes.

Artist Soapbox explores all artistic mediums.

We believe we can learn from all artists. Artist Soapbox is open to the full spectrum of art-makers and has interviewed creatives in theatre, dance, visual, literary, craft, administration, film making, photography, music, design and more.

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