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Jan 2, 2018 10:52 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Musical Based On The Life Of Rachel Carson To Be Presented At Guild Hall On January 8

Jan 2, 2018 12:32 PM

What began as an undergraduate senior thesis has evolved into an almost decade-long passion project for writer and lyricist Jessie Field. Her full-length musical “Rachel” about environmentalist and advocate Rachel Carson, featuring music by her brother Jared Field, will be presented as a reading at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Monday, January 8.

The late Ms. Carson was best known for her book “Silent Spring,” which documented the damage caused by the insecticide DDT, short for dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane. The book not only stressed that the chemical was a danger to the environment and wildlife, but also humans. Her controversial stance led to backlash from chemical companies, which only strained her declining health later in life.

Ms. Field said she read a biography, “Witness for Nature” by Linda Lear, about the environmentalist, while studying theater at Brandeis University, right outside of Boston, and became fascinated by Ms. Carson’s legacy.

“The story was really arresting,” she said. “I knew about halfway through it that I really wanted to write and tell her story with a really odd sort of certainty.”

As a blossoming playwright and lyricist, she began to visualize Ms. Carson’s story as a stage musical.

“I like musicals, but I also like the outdoors. And I think when you like the outdoors you get scared for it when you read about climate change and global warming and all sorts of scary things.”

Ms. Field said she conducted an entire year of research and spent two years writing the musical. Her brother Jared also attended Brandeis as a music education major; however, Ms. Field recalls being afraid to approach him about joining what she anticipated to be a long and arduous journey.

“I thought he’d have other things to do that were more important, so I had a case for why he should embark on this insane project with me. But he was almost immediately like, ‘That sounds cool, let’s do it.’”

For the seven years they’ve been developing the piece, her brother has been her sounding board, Ms. Field said.

Since its first incarnation as a reading titled “Always, Rachel” at Brandeis, the show has went through countless revisions and cuts, and reimagining. The original piece was more than three hours long, Ms. Field said, remembering how she was trying to fit in every detail before realizing that was an impossible task.

“Since then it’s been a refining process,” she said. “I’m very excited about how far it’s come.”

Many of the major revisions developed through the collaboration with director Ari Laura Kreith, who joined the team two and a half years ago.

“I immediately fell in love with the project,” Ms. Kreith said. Although her plate was incredibly full with other projects and commitments, she said she found herself unable to walk away from the opportunity to be involved.

Ms. Kreith, a graduate of Yale University and UC Davis, currently serves as artistic director for Theatre 167, which originated in Queens. She conceived and directed The Jackson Heights Trilogy, which includes “167 Tongues,” “You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase” and “Jackson Heights 3AM.” These full-length plays were written by 18 playwrights and featured 37 actors in 93 roles in 14 languages to emulate what she referred to as the world’s most diverse neighborhood. With her experience and innovative spirit, she was a coup to the “Rachel” team.

“We were so lucky to find Ari,” Ms. Field said. “It was a beautiful collaboration right from the start. She looks at everything with such clarity, which is so helpful when you’ve been working on a project for many years. Sometimes you just need help to take that step to see it clearly again and Ari was that person for us.”

Ms. Kreith said she originally stepped in after the director of the reading presented at the New York Musical Theatre Festival’s Next Link series in 2014 was unavailable to continue. With her help, the team staged “Rachel” at the 2015 Fresh Fruit Festival where it received three “Fruitie” awards—Outstanding Featured Performance for actors Roberto Araujo and Lipica Shah and Outstanding Play.

The reading that will be presented at Guild Hall is most similar to the version of the show presented at 2017’s NY Summerfest Theatre Festival. While the Fresh Fruit Festival reading featured nine male and female actors playing various parts, the latest version of the show is stripped down to a four-woman show with male voices heard from off-stage, the show’s creators explained.

“It was the best idea of all time and I couldn’t be happier now,” said Ms. Field of the idea to narrow down the number of cast members.

Another change includes the dynamic of Ms. Carson being portrayed by two different actresses to represent different stages of her life.

“Originally when Jessie wrote it linearly, with one person playing Rachel, it went through her life from college to her death,” Mr. Field said.

One of Ms. Field’s advisors at Brandeis gave her the idea to split the show into two timelines, he said.

“The result has the show going back and forth between younger Rachel and older Rachel and trying to juxtapose the two parts of her life. Seeing the things that are different and similar about her as she’s a struggling scientist and writer trying to get known in the world … versus older Rachel who is a successful author who has the use her success and jeopardize her success and also her health to take on this issue of pesticides,” Mr. Field explained.

This change impacted the music, he added, because of the occurrence of musical themes throughout the show and where they show up.

Ultimately, the creators are exceedingly proud of their project, which they dream of presenting on a regional level and even on a Broadway stage one day. For them, they explained, it is less about professional success, but more about spreading Ms. Carson’s message of perseverance and dedication to protecting the environment.

“This story is even more essential to tell right now,” Ms. Kreith said. “I think one of the things the play deals with is not just an environmental crisis, but also how you should fight for what you believe in and how you find yourself as an activist.”

“JDT Lab: Rachel: A new musical about Rachel Carson” will be presented at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton, on Monday, January 8, at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free. Reservations can be made at guildhall.org.

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