Alumni Profile

Alumni siblings collaborate on 'Rachel'

Jared Field '11 and his sister, Jessie '13, have collaborated on 'Rachel.'

By Brian Klotz

Rachel Carson, best known as the author of “Silent Spring,” was many things: a marine biologist, a conservationist, and a person widely credited with beginning the modern environmentalist movement. What she had never been, however, was the subject of a stage musical – that is, until Jessie Field ’13, a playwright, approached her musician brother, Jared Field ’11, about a new collaboration while both were Brandeis students. This year, the play was an official selection of NY Summerfest, marking a seven-year journey for what began as a passion project on campus.

“I read a Rachel Carson biography my sophomore year,” says Jessie, “and I knew I wanted to write her story.”

Within Carson’s life, Jessie found themes of feminism as well as environmentalism – both of which, she notes, are particularly relevant today. “I want to inspire people to do something,” she says. “I think art has a responsibility to help us look at things we don’t want to look at but should.”

Jessie arrived at Brandeis with the intent of becoming a lawyer, inspired by the play “Inherit the Wind” about the famed Scopes “Monkey” trial.  She quickly discovered, however, that what had truly sparked her interest was not the fictionalized lawyers on stage, but theater itself.

“I took an introductory theater class, and that was my ‘gateway drug,’ ” Jessie says.

When searching for a collaborator to set her words to music, Jessie didn’t have to look beyond her own family. “I am very fortunate to have had a brilliant composer born into my own household,” she says.

Jared had always been interested in music, and while he considered attending a conservatory, he ultimately chose Brandeis so he could pursue his musical ambitions while receiving a more well-rounded education. Classes with David Rakowski, the Walter W. Naumburg Professor of Composition at Brandeis, invigorated his love for the field. “People think music theory is dry and boring,” Jared says, “but he really made it enjoyable.”

Meanwhile, Jessie found motivation from her own professors. In particular, she cites Adrianne Krstansky, the Barbara Sherman '54 and Malcolm L. Sherman Director of Theater Arts, as a “beacon of inspiration,” and describes senior lecturer Jennifer Cleary as “a smart, calming force” in the often-chaotic world of theater.

Before writing a single word for the then-titled “Always, Rachel,” Jessie spent an entire year conducting research on Carson’s life and work. Once Jessie had a script to share, Jared began writing the music around it. “I like knowing what is happening in a particular scene,” he says. “That inspires the music and melodic ideas.”

As brother and sister, the pair collaborate seamlessly. “I think we find the beautiful middle ground between our individual styles,” says Jared.

The resulting play, which became Jessie’s senior thesis, was first staged at the 2013 Senior Festival, an annual event in which the Brandeis Department of Theater Arts showcases the work of graduating students. Jessie directed while Jared returned to campus to conduct. As a result of Jessie’s meticulous research, however, the play clocked in at a hefty three hours. While proud of the production, Jessie recognized that it was a learning experience for her as a young playwright.

“It’s like sculpting,” she explains. “You start with a block of marble and cut it down to a statue. I am very grateful to Brandeis for allowing me to present my block of marble.”

Jessie began submitting “Always, Rachel” to festivals, and it became an official selection of the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival and entered into its Developmental Reading Program, where it was further refined under the guidance of experienced dramaturges. The next year, the play, now simply titled “Rachel,” was an official selection of the 2015 Fresh Fruit Festival, where it won an award for Outstanding Musical.

With the production now helmed by veteran director Ari Laura Kreith, Jessie trimmed the play to 90 minutes, featuring only four female characters accompanied by offstage male voices. “The first day we heard the four women harmonizing, I knew we made the right choice,” says Jessie.

Jared, for his part, rearranged pieces, wrote additional songs and reconciled the old with the new. “We had music from seven years ago and music from seven days ago,” he notes.

For the New Jersey natives, seeing their work on a New York stage remains exhilarating. “It still feels surreal,” says Jared.

Jared and Jesse have been granted a mini-residency at the 2018 John Drew Theater Lab Series in East Hampton, New York, to workshop “Rachel,” culminating in a performance at the Guild Hall theater in January. Inspired by the positive receptions to the show, they are also considering mounting another production of it at an opera company in Montclair, New Jersey, at some point in early 2018.

“I’m doing what I love,” says Jessie. “Success is just the cherry on top.”

Categories: Alumni Profile
Date: November 6, 2017