“Orange is the New Black” Actress Rachel Resheff Talks BlueCat
STRUGGLES AND DREAMS OF A YOUNG TEEN WRITER
Hi! I’m Rachel, a 14 year old actress, singer, dancer in NYC, and I’m a writer. I am currently playing Jessica Drexel in Larry David’s new play, “Fish in The Dark,” my fifth Broadway show. I have also had the opportunity to act in amazing independent feature films and shows such as “Orange is The New Black,” in which I played young Alex.
I started writing at age 3, the same summer that I began to read. As the youngest of 3 children, every night I would walk from room to room asking each family member to read me a book. Facing rejection at every corner, I sat down and taught myself to read. By the end of the summer, I was also writing words.
My writing expanded as I grew, and by age 8 I was writing rap songs for opening night celebrations for shows I was in, and I began writing unsent letters to the editors of publications to express my reactions to a multitude of subjects I read about. By age 10 I started writing songs, and finally during the summer I turned 13 I began writing my first feature film screenplay. The script served as an ode to the experiences I had as an actress navigating the adult professional world, as well as a quasi-revenge piece in response to a close friend starting a bullying campaign at school against me for being absent from the epicenter of middle school life due to my work.
MY FIRST FEATURE SCREENPLAY
I spent the first few months of writing my script experiencing what I worried might be insurmountable writer’s block. My first draft had six different forms of voiceover narration, and I learned that it was in fact possible to stare at a computer screen for upwards of four hours without a single word making it onto the document. All of the brain activity left my body; the endless array of thoughts and ideas, and the assuredness that because I had read hundreds of scripts, and acted in films and on stage, that I knew how to write one, went up in smoke. Then, one day, I heard this tiny voice inside my head. I said to myself, “Focus on the story. Tell the story.” The writing began to flow. I had generated the outline I had sworn I didn’t need, and I lived by it as my bible. I found comfort in the fact that if I didn’t like what I wrote, I could always change it. And each day, I spent time re-reading scripts of projects that I had loved in order to understand what I had responded to.
As I wrote and wrote, I got so much advice, encouragement, and many notes from writers and directors (especially from a director friend and producer friend I had worked with on a film). I learned that writing is re-writing and re-creating until a story evolves, filled with complex and alive characters who people will care about. I also learned that to bring a story to life in a screenplay, I would have to journey away from the safety of the perfectly real and true characters and events that I was writing about. That was my greatest challenge as a young writer. Many of the mentors who read my script said they found it fascinating to see themselves as adults through my eyes, but they challenged me to venture into a more inventive storyline and form characters I had never met before to stretch my work and make it more exciting to the reader and hopefully one day to an audience.
One of my first realizations was that I could not possibly begin to understand how adults feel, or why they do the things they do. But as a young actress, I have learned to observe intricate details of human behavior, and so I am able to write about adults through the eyes of a young teen, and that can be pretty funny. I can also unlock one of the great mysteries of the universe: how do teenagers think and see things? Tweenage and teenage years envelop a time period adults either block out completely because it was so disastrous for them, or they simply take the highlights and remember their teenage years as all sunshine and rainbows and fun times. We teens are not all mercurial and hormonally imbalanced beings who communicate in indiscernible languages on different forms of social media. But we do operate in uniquely strange ways, and we often don’t know why we do the things we do – it’s part of our charm.
THE AGE BARRIER
Truthfully, I don’t think a screenplay is ever finished, but it does reach a point where the writer is finished expressing the narrative he or she wants to tell. That is where I have arrived after two years. I thought, similar to acting, that my screenplay would audition, and somebody might like it for their television station or movie screen. I sent it to some literary agents and producers of teen television shows and movies for teens and tweens. I think I expected a lot of “Don’t quit your day job” or “We don’t take unsolicited materials,” which would have been totally okay. Instead I got, “We won’t read your script because you are too young,” and “Who would be willing to do anything with it, even if it is good?” One kind literary agent wrote “You seem awesome, but I can’t take something like this on right now.” When I was faced with my age being a barrier to anybody looking seriously at my script, I felt uncharacteristically frustrated at facing age-based doubts. It just seemed sort of unfair.
When I found the BLUECAT SCREENPLAY COMPETITION, I read and re-read the submission rules multiple times. I could not fathom that it did not say “must be 18 plus to submit.” I waited for weeks after I sent my screenplay in for a “return to sender” email saying I had missed some small print barring those under 18 from submitting. But the “return to sender” email never came. The contest was indeed open to writers of all ages! I could not believe there was an opportunity for my work to be read, critiqued by script readers, and at least I would leave with a sense that my screenplay had been looked at as a real piece of work. I will be forever grateful for that opportunity and for the open-mindedness of seeing young teens as viable creative contributors.
At night, in my dressing room at the theater when I am not on stage, I open my computer and move forward with my future writing projects, which include completely imaginary worlds that won’t be impacted by age or time providing the backdrops for coming-of-age characters. At the moment I struggle with being able to write a story with an adult as a protagonist. I have started a journal of characters and their background stories, and different elements of contextual and historical possibilities for future scripts. I also experiment with ideas on how I can get somebody to take an interest in my first feature film script which houses all of my dreams and battle scars. I am hoping somebody will find that my voice as a young teen writer in that script and those to come will have worth. I think screenwriters enhance the fabric of life.