When you wore Braces is Rachel Edmonds’ taut, thrilling debut play about sisters, families, secrets and the dark recesses of the fragile human psyche. It deftly explores the raw intimacy of sibling reklatinship0s and the ways they expose a person’s capacity for intense love and cruelty.
A deeply personal work, Edmonds wrote the first draft of the play while recovering from surgery. “At the time I think I was looking to escape the pain and the emotional impact of what the last six months had brought,” says Edmonds. “I wanted to imagine a new world with these two characters and think about their problems instead of mine. It’s significance is in how long it’s taken to get this one act play from the space recovering from surgery in my parents house, to here now. At a time where everything I expected my life to be had collapsed, due to my body developing significant illness, this play took over space in my foggy head and gave me direction. It means a lot to me to finally have this staged after all the work that’s gone into it and the stages of my life I’ve been through since first penning this story.”
Edmonds wanted to explore family dynamics, especially sibling dynamics. They were intrigued by the idea that siblings mess up, push each other and forgive each other more than one would with a friend.
“That, as siblings, we’re able to be not just our full selves but our worst selves, and we keep coming back to each other. I wanted to ask the question ‘how far can you push a sibling before they give up on you?’. I have three brothers and the tension has always existed more between the three of them than it ever has between me and them, so I also wanted to explore a same sex sibling relationship.”
Edmonds didn’t set out trying to say anything profound with the piece. They simply wanted to explore and tell a good story and see what elements naturally occurred within that. Disabled performer, writer, mum and activist, Edmonds comes from a background of more experimental theatre and the disability rights movement but here they wanted a story with disabled characters where their personalities were not centred around their disabilities. Disability is a theme in the play, it comes through the lens of dealing with family conversations around your disability.
Sexuality is a theme in the play also. “It was important to me to represent a bisexual disabled character; it’s not something we see in traditional play scripts that often, yet there are queer disabled women everywhere,” says Edmonds. “I also wanted to explore how confusing it was to grow up bisexual in the 90’s and early 2000’s before the internet where there was no queer sex education or the internet.”
Edmonds acknowledges that another major theme is hard to characterise with a word. “It’s this very millennial, gen z type of mental illness. The ‘Australian Dream Lie’ kind of depression. As kids we were told we could do anything and now we all have huge debts, can’t afford houses, hate our jobs, the planet is dying and we’re dragging our feet trying to live a life very different from the one we were promised.”
In the work, the siblings’ close proximity unearths a lifetime of secrets and resentments with childhood trauma and unexpected death being the shadow that haunts the characters through the whole play. How do you move on after losing a sibling? How do you grow up? How do you live with the guilt of believing it might be your fault? How do you relate to each other when you’re so different and the person who brought you together is dead? How do you live with the mental health impact?
The remaining theme is play. The idea that the more we grow up, the more like children we become. That there’s safety, catharsis, and joy in childishness.
“I wouldn’t suggest that the play has a specific moral or message,” say6s Edmonds. “I hope more that it’ll provoke reflection and thinking on a number of topics, comfort and laughter in the familiarity of others. Above all, I trust that it’ll be a good night out at the theatre.”
Edmonds encourages people came to see it with their siblings. “I’d love audiences to walk out talking about the little things that reminded them of their own childhoods and reflect on the good and the bad of their relationships with family. I hope that these characters will feel very real to people.
I hope that they’ll think about how rare it is to see disabled characters played by disabled actors in traditional style play scripts like this and talk about how we need to see more of it.”
A graduate of the National Theatre Drama School, Edmonds loves character driven stories. “People fascinate me. I’m more drawn towards reality and heightened reality, occasionally a thriller or supernatural element. Superhero stories bore me to pieces. I like watching complicated, multifaceted humans with many motivations and emotions.”
It is no surprise then that Edmonds’ work is more character driven and in the realm of realism or heightened realism, but taking elements from other genres. They want to create the kinds of stories and characters they would like to see – always including diversity in their story telling.
Though Edmonds comes from an acting and theatre making background, this is their first play script Their past writing has been published mostly in the mediums of poetry and children/tween short stories.
Edmonds admits to finding inspiration in everyday places. “Whether that’s looking at a packet of Uno cards or seeing a portaloo at a house on top of a hill,” says Edmonds. “I always picture my characters before I figure out the story. I’m focusing at the moment on writing good stories with interesting characters from diverse backgrounds. My goal is to write these characters without their entire personalities or purpose in the play being their diversity. Their identities are always written into the play and inform them but is never all that they are. I believe this is more reflective of reality and creates deeper, more interesting and less cliché characters.”
When you Wore Braces has been a long time in the making – almost 6 years – The initial challenge was the codeine Edmonds was taking post surgery when they wrote the first draft and the fact that they had no idea HOW to write a play. “I still don’t,” they say.
It also got shelved for a bit while they were focusing on their touring show Have you tried yoga? in 2017 and 2018 but did have a public reading of a section of the script at Melbourne Writers Festival in 2018. At the end of 2018 Edmonds had brain surgery and shortly after fell pregnant. The script, in draft form, was a finalist for the Queer Playwriting Awards in 2019 and had a staged reading at Gasworks in January of that year, only days after Edmonds found out they were pregnant. Edmonds was eager to continue working on it but they had a dreadful pregnancy and was very ill for most of it – their my son was born in September 2019.
Edmonds was very busy in those early mum days and had to have surgery again at the beginning of 2020 and then, of course, came COVID. “Thankfully, the City of Melbourne provided me with a quick response grant which was used on the first development of the script via zoom and later Kate Hood from Raspberry Ripple Productions funded a second development for the script where we made some huge changes,” explains Edmonds. “Since then we’ve just been waiting for the right time. Sonia (who plays the role of Paige) and I both are immunocompromised and I also wanted to find the right team to work with. Although I’ve produced work in the past, it was before I was a parent and I didn’t want to do that this time. So earlier this year Darby from Misfittoys came on board and has been a great support. So yes, a lot of challenges! And some highlights too. Being able to work with Kate Hood was very beneficial and it’s a much stronger play because of her input. I hope my favourite part of this process is this part, actually getting to perform it on stage!”
When you wore Braces is the story of Lily and Paige who navigate time lost, time found and each other. Says Edmonds: “I promise there’s no audience involvement this time! It is going to be a good little piece of theatre. Something you’ll enjoy and take away from without feeling ambushed. A fun show that’ll have you laughing, remembering and feeling perhaps a little surprised by the end. A show that asks you the question, can you outgrow your family? ”
July 25 – 30