R-3 teacher breaking into
by Stacy Wiedmaier
The glitzy and famed world of Hollywood contrasts heavily with the quiet life of small town Platte City. Area resident Rebecca Stallard is familiar with the differences as she remains in limbo between these two worlds. Stallard works as a full time substitute teacher at Platte County R-3 High School and serves as the director of the creative writing program. She is able to bring her students real world experience since she is actively pursuing playwriting and songwriting endeavors on the West Coast.
Stallard wrote a stage play centered on her family’s dark history and battle with cancer, it is titled “Pinochle” after the tradition of playing this card game before and after the many funerals she has attended throughout her life.
“The play is based on my mother’s family and her siblings, there were 10 children in all,” said Stallard. “My mother, both maternal grandparents, four aunts and one uncle have died of cancer. More recently, six of my first cousins and four second cousins have died of cancer. ‘Pinochle,’ is the title and I see it as sort of a metaphor for life.”
In 1989, her family joined others with hereditary cancers where they participated in a breast cancer study conducted by Creighton University in 1989. Multiple family members provided researchers with blood and skin samples, which led them to the discovery of “BRCA1,” or the hereditary breast cancer gene. Stallard said doctors take this illness more seriously now than they did in the past.
“The saddest part of the tragedy of my mother and her siblings,” said Stallard, “was how in the 60’s and 70’s when my mother and aunts would voice their concerns to different doctors, they would reply, ‘Cancer is not hereditary.’ If and when the women found a lump in their breast they would plead to their doctor to remove it. The doctor would again say, ‘You’re too young to have cancer, we’ll just watch the lump for a while.’”
Experiences such as this, along with the heartache of losing family members to the same incurable disease, led Stallard to keep her family’s story in the back of her mind. She studied theatre in college at Missouri Western State University where she majored in English and communications with a theatre minor. During college, she said she and her friends frequently discussed her family’s history of cancer and set their sights on weaving the story into a screenplay one day.
“My dream was always to write a screenplay on the topic,” she said. “Once I started the Pinochle script in 2000, I decided to take it a step further so I wrote a stage play too. This is what we took to Hollywood last month.”
Stallard said she spent approximately seven months writing the initial stage play before spending another two to three years editing the copy. Her college friends provided crucial contacts on the west coast, since all three of them migrated there to work in the industry. A local theatre in Hollywood took interest in the Pinochle stage play and organized a stage production held April 23 and 24 at the Fountain Theatre. The cast of 13 actors portrayed the Kindel family while they brought to life the struggle, questions, and secrets Stallard’s family endured.
“They gather for a game of pinochle,” states the play’s promotional flyer, “and ponder who will live to see another birthday. Some will succumb quietly but others will rage against their fate. In the card game they love, the shrewdest bidder wins. In the game of their lives, cancer holds all the cards.”
The first act is set in Barnes, Kan. in September of 1954, while act 2 occurs 10 years later. Stallard said although her family was unable to make the journey west for this production about their lives, they remain honored and hopeful this play will help other families through times of tragedy. Stallard said she received “powerful” and positive reviews after the production that gave her added encouragement.
She has not hired an agent yet, but is currently in the process of signing with an entertainment lawyer. She said the story is so unique that it would be hard for anyone to copy, but for precautions sake she has registered the script with the writer’s guild and copyrighted the idea.
Stallard said her ultimate goal during the first stage production of Pinochle was to continue making as many contacts as possible, hoping the right person will come along to distribute the script. Asked whether she would consider permanently moving to Southern California in the future, she said she was up for the idea if it presents itself. If her screenplay does turn into a movie one day, she said she has already chosen who she wants to star in the film.
“Sandra Bullock would be the ideal female lead,” she said laughing. “We’re still writing letters to production companies and trying to keep this process moving so we can move forward. Entertainment is an extremely difficult field to get into. After you have the ‘what you know,’ you must find the ‘who you know.’ We’ve found the best way to succeed is just doing it yourself.”
Although she is continually pursuing the Pinochle screen and stage scripts, she has also found time to write a short film and various songwriting projects. Her latest songwriting endeavor includes an agreement with HillTop Records where Stallard’s written lyrics were arranged to music featured on an album titled, “America.”
Describing herself as a “poet by passion,” she said she plans to continue following this writing path whether it leads to the stage, screen, songs, or the publishing world.
“Although I’m in the middle of 10 projects at once, I’m always thinking about the next story I want to do,” Stallard said. “Pinochle was such an emotional journey for me that I want to write something more lighthearted the next time around.”