IU exchange student creates one-woman play about Rachael’s Café owner

Guest post courtesy of IU Communications colleague Jaclyn Lansbery:

About four years ago, England native Lucy Danser met Rachael Jones, owner of Bloomington coffee house and music venue Rachael’s Café.

Danser, then an IU exchange student from the University of Kent, was interviewing people to create a monologue for IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance assistant professor Ken Weitzman’s 400-level course “Ensemble Created Scripts.”

Weitzman challenged students to base their monologues on the theme of hunting: hunting for identity, stalking, hunting game or hunting for someone lost. After meeting Jones, Danser decided to interpret her story as the “hunt for gender.”

The resulting monologue — which Danser had to perform using an American accent — has since morphed into “Rachael’s Café — The Play,” a one-woman production that will open Feb. 25 in London for a 19-day stint in the Old Ren Lion Theatre. Thanks to donations from Rachael’s Café customers, Jones was able fly to Scotland and attend the play’s debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011. The play’s London production — in addition to the marketing, set design, photography and filming — was partly funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Lucy Danser. Credit: Richard Grebby.

Lucy Danser. Credit: Richard Grebby.

“I can’t drag her around the world to meet everyone, but I can recreate for others the experience of spending an hour or so in her lovely company in the one place Rachael feels the most at home,” said Danser, who’s been rehearsing over 40 hours per week in preparation for the London opening.

Based on a number of personal interviews between Danser and Jones, the play follows Jones’ transition from Brown County native Eric Wininger — a divorced husband and loving father of three who also attends church and rides motorcycles — to Rachael Jones, now something of a well-known figure of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement in Bloomington.

In the play’s trailer, which was produced by IU alum Graham Sheldon, Jones said she’s tried hard not to be a “GLBT café.” Jones’ mission to accept everyone is demonstrated by the café’s slogan, “Come as you want — everyone is welcome at our table.”

With encouragement from her mother, who helps run Little Fly Theatre in England, Danser decided to develop the monologue into a play. After Jones gave Danser her blessing, she returned to Bloomington a year after studying at IU to spend more time at Rachael’s Café and conduct more interviews.

“What makes Rachael special, to me at least, is the fact that she neither forces people to notice her but doesn’t hide away,” Danser said. “She just is, and she’s aware that people are curious about her and maybe uncomfortable and confused, but never takes offense.”

After the play’s debut, Danser re-worked the script for its showing at the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival and Brighton Fringe in 2012. The play also showed for the transgender charity gala “Gendered Intelligence” at the University of London’s Royal Central School of Speech & Drama.

“For me, personally, the play is a homage to Rachael and to Bloomington,” Danser said. “I’m often surprised when the show elicits discussion on the topic of being transgender. Although I’m aware that’s a big part of Rachael’s life, the most inspiring part of Rachael for me is her personality and her day-to-day strength.”

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