(Above: At Winter’s Edge, by Eugene playwright Rachael Carnes, has its world premiere on Dec. 6 with Minority Voices Theatre in the Stage Left space at The Very Little Theatre)

By Randi Bjornstad

Eugene playwright Rachael Carnes had no idea when she wrote At Winter’s Edge just how fitting the play would be when it hits the boards in the Stage Left theater space at The Very Little Theatre on Dec. 6 for a two-weekend run.

Carnes crafted the play months ago, after a friend spent 18 hours stranded at the Denver, Colo., airport with bad weather raging in various parts of the country, wreaking havoc on thousands of travel plans.

“It’s certainly a universally understood disaster, whether people are traveling by plane, train, or car,” she said. “But there’s nothing people can do except put their lives on pause and hope for the best. And the Stage Left space has been transformed into a little airport lounge that I think will make the situation seem very real.”

Carnes credits Carol Dennis, a member and director at The VLT, with the idea, hatched over coffee earlier this year. Dennis collaborated in 2017 with fellow actor/director Stanley Coleman to found the Minority Voices Theatre — now a resident group within VLT — in order to bring more multicultural diversity to the local theater scene.

“Carol approached me in March or April and asked if I would be interested in working on a project for Minority Voices Theatre, and I was very excited about it,” Carnes said. “She had this idea (for a plot) and asked me if I would write the play.”

It turned out to be a far different process from sitting at a desk and dreaming up a script.

“It was very unusual — I didn’t write this in isolation, doing a script and then handing it over,” Carnes said. “We used local people as our fount of inspiration, interviewing them and getting their stories and then using their experiences and memories. It was exciting to me to get to know them — their families, their origins, their bad travel stories —and then try to shape all that into a play for an ensemble of characters. It was a wonderful challenge — it was like putting a puzzle together — and I really got to know them through the process.”

She and Dennis set their goal to complete a draft of At Winter’s Edge by mid-July, and Carnes laughs when she remembers some of her most intensive writing, which took place when she was in Tennessee at a writing conference.

“It was 100 degrees outside and about 100 percent humidity, and there I was, trying to write a play about being stranded in an airport in the middle of winter.”

Draft after draft after draft later, she and Dennis honed the plot, and then they did a “table read” with the prospective actors.

“But these weren’t just actors, they were the original inspirations for the characters,” Carnes said. “So besides reacting to the play, they could comment 0n the development of their characters based on what really had happened. And they could speak to the multicultural aspects that we wanted to emphasize, sharing their experiences of culture, race, faith that we wanted to be represented in the play.”

Revisions and refinements continued until mid-November, “and then we finally had to say, ‘Okay, time to staple this thing together — this is the script,’ ” she recalled. “It was so unusual having taken the skeleton of an idea and working so closely with everyone involved to create a story about their own experience.”

Before 2016, Carnes had never even thought much about writing a play, but that year she decided to take Eugene playwright/director Paul Calandrino’s 10-minute playwriting class, and that was that — “I really caught the playwriting bug,” she said.

Since then she’s written about 50 short plays and a dozen full-length ones — several of her short plays have been produced internationally — and it’s become such a fixation that not only does At Winter’s Edge open on Dec. 6, so does a collaboration between Carnes and Calandrino that they’re calling Bunfight and which they will present on the Oregon Contemporary Theatre stage. Bunfight consists of eight short plays — four by Carnes and four by Calandrino — “and they are all over the map, from serious to goofy to kinetic,” Carnes said. It also has a two-weekend run.

What makes playwriting a bit more productive than other kinds of writing “is that it’s mostly dialogue — the volume of words is really not that high,” Carnes said. “If you have a knack for it, it’s a pretty easy medium. Plays are almost like sketches and can be a warmup for something longer, kind of like an artist sketching something in charcoal before doing it as a complete painting.”

Even though she works and has a husband and two teenagers at home, Carnes tries to write every day, “because I think it actually makes me a better worker and a more present family member,” she said. “When I write, I really concentrate and don’t pay attention to anything else, so when I stop I am ready to be engaged fully in other ways.”

Before she wrote plays, Carnes had done theater reviewing for alternative newspapers for years, “but I always had been curious about actually trying to write plays myself,” she said. “Now that I’m actually doing it, it’s kind of interesting being almost 50 years old and a novice at something — I think we are always capable of trying something new and should not be afraid to do it.”

To her, playwriting is both enjoyable and satisfying, but she has no ambition toward fame and fortune.

“I suppose I could say I hope to have a play on Broadway someday,” Carnes said. “But I don’t.”


At Winter’s Edge

When: Evenings at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 6-7 and 12-14; matinees at 2 p.m. on Dec. 8 and 15

Where: Stage Left in The Very Little Theatre, 2350 Hilyard St., Eugene

Tickets: $14, available at The VLT box office, 541-344-7751, or online at TheVLT.com



When: Evenings at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 6-7, 12-14; matinee at 2 p.m. on Dec. 15 (preview performance at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 5)

Where: Oregon Contemporary Theatre, 194 W. Broadway, Eugene

Tickets: $20-26, $15 for students with valid ID (suggested what-you-can-afford preview price $15, $10 for students with valid ID), available at the OCT box office, 541-465-1506, or online at octheatre.org