This story first appeared in the February 2018 edition of The Hilltop.
There’s something about the anticipation in the air that hovers above the stage, illuminated in the dust that floats within the beams of the stage lights. When Rachel Ost comes back to the Psalm Center in August every year, after it has been “baking over the summer,” she describes a “dusty, warm, prepared sort of smell.” It is as though the “heartbeat” of the theater has been waiting for its people to come back, and bring life in again.
Ost, an actress, director and playwright, will be presenting a play she wrote herself this spring. The play, “Alice,” has a collection of characters and poetry from “Alice in Wonderland,” but with an original story, plot and characters.
“This is not an adaptation,” Ost said. “This is a modernized drama.”
Rachel Stadeli, who is playing the dormouse, appreciates how different the play is from the original.
“The characters seemed real to me in a way that was so beyond the whimsical characters we know,” Stadeli said.
“With each day, rehearsing, running lines and exploring characters with my castmates, Rachel [Ost], and the assistant directors, I get to know Alice more and more each day,” Heather Bellinger, who plays Alice, said. “It’s like having a coffee or tea with her, and I find out more about her, and sometimes myself, between each sip. I feel [Ost] is there too with us, asking us the deep questions we hadn’t thought of, adding her thoughts and asking the waiter to keep our cups filled so the conversations keep going.”
While in Gina Ochsner’s short story writing class, Ost wrote a quick dialogue between Alice and the Madhatter that had a deep message. That began the 10-year journey of creating “Alice.”
“This is my story, my plot … my experiences,” Ost said, who also compared the play to life in her twenties.
“There comes a point where all of us grow up and realize there’s so much more to the world than what we saw as children,” Ost said. She was specifically inspired by her mother and grandmother, Alice.
“As I became a woman, I saw them more as women too, less as the perfect idols I had made them in my childhood,” said Ost. “I learned my grandma’s struggles, my mom’s fears, their challenges, their triumphs, their failures, recoveries and joys. More than my own life, their lives taught me that I am not alone. Loss and pain are real, but so are love and help and hope. A lot of these lessons come out in this play – and it’s me, the writer, reflecting my learning and growing into adulthood.”
“I discovered the cast to bring my play to life, and I found beauty in watching them dig deeper and find their characters’ lives and motivations,” Ost said.
The people who’ve helped her along the way and the actors who are beginning to embody her characters are “dressing up the skeleton,” Ost said. After working so hard and for so long, this journey is still “serendipitous.” No matter how beautiful this work was imagined to be, it has become valuable in ways Ost didn’t even know to dream of.
“We weren’t planning for wonderful,” Ost said, “but that’s what we received.”