Carla Grauls' 'Life Ever After' Shows Relationships Will Always Matter More Than Tech

With her audio play Life Ever After, Carla Grauls set out to explore transhumanism and what it means to really be human as we use technology enhance/augment human intellect and physiology.

With her audio play Life Ever After, Carla Grauls set out to explore transhumanism and what it means to really be human as we use technology enhance/augment human intellect and physiology. What the award-winning London playwright ended up creating is a beautifully disturbing work that truly shows that humanity is more than a steady march to progress and upgrades.

Listen in as Grauls talks about how writing the audio play, performed by Raúl Castillo and Nana Mensah and part of the Audible Emerging Playwrights program, gave her the opportunity to do something exciting and new, while continuing to follow a common thread through all her work: that of identity and belonging.

Note: Text has been edited and may not match audio exactly. 

Abby West: Hi. I'm your Audible editor Abby West and I'm here today with award-winning playwright Carla Grauls to talk about her play, Life Ever After.

Carla is the winner of the Nick Darke Award for her play Made for Him, and her critically acclaimed play Occupied at Theater503 was nominated for two Off West End Awards in 2014. Her works have been performed in London, Italy, and South Africa. And she's part of Audible's second group of Emerging Playwrights. Life Ever After is her new Audible commission play. Welcome, Carla.

Carla Grauls: Hello. Nice to be here.

AW: We are very happy to have you here and to have you as part of our second group of Audible's Emerging Playwrights program. Can we talk a little bit about what that experience has been like for you?

CG: Yes, it's been really good. It's been quite fast. I was commissioned in April last year, and I finished writing the play pretty much in January. So, it was kind of like a nine months thing of getting the baby--play--out.

AW: Very appropriate.

CG: Yeah, exactly. And it's been really good. It's the first time I've written for long-form audio. I've done shorter pieces and I mostly work in stage plays, so it's been a really good experience. It's just nice to use words more as well. I have a tendency to write sort of less words in stage plays because you've got gesture and glances and looks and things like that happening with what's happening on the stage. Whereas here, you don't have any visuals. So, I've found it a really sort of freeing experience of using more words and painting a picture and everything. So, it's been really good.

AW: I love that. That you didn't find it challenging. You found something to lean into and embrace.

CG: Yeah, definitely. And I think it's inspired me. I'd like to write for the form a bit more now.

AW: We would love it.

CG: Yeah, yeah. I've fallen in love with Audible and audio, so yeah. Good job.

Theater is quite immediate anyway. But this is almost like I'm inside your head

AW: Tell us more! Tell us more! No, I love that because it is a very intimate experience. It's similar to being in a theater where you feel cocooned and you're really engaged in what's going on.

CG: Yes, definitely. And I think one of the things [I really liked] is writing different types of voices. Writing for an inner voice, an outer voice, dialogue, narration, and using all those different forms which I hadn't done before, so that was really good. Really enjoying the sort of intimacy of telling a story to someone and listening is such a one-to-one experience, and that was really nice. Theater is quite immediate anyway. But this is almost like I'm inside your head, so it's really good.

AW: And think of the power.

CG: Yeah, exactly. What can I make you do now?

AW: I love the idea that for a creator like yourself, it's sort of a new playground. That's something you can go into. And before we go into further questions about that, let's set up the premise for people who are not familiar with Life Ever After. It's set in a not-too-distant future, right?

CG: Yeah, that's right, set in a not-too-distant future. I can't really tell you the year, because I don't know the year really, when all these technological advances will take place. But basically, it's a play about trans humanism and about two people who decide to upgrade themselves to become better versions of themselves. They go through a number of different procedures over years to incorporate tech into themselves to give them better performance, vitality, life extension--all sort of things that are being talked about now. All these different innovations and inventions. I did quite a lot of research on this subject and crafted a story with two people going on two different journeys of upgrading themselves. And what happens to them on a personal level and individual level, what happens as they get involved, and in the city around them as well. So, taking those sort of different layers and different journeys and just seeing where we could end up.

It's a sort of speculative fiction thing, kind of seeing if we do start upgrading ourselves, what could possible happen? And what is the definition of human if we do start making those choices for ourselves?

AW: And I think you really tapped into the human part of it by making it such an intimate conversation. You're switching between their internal narrative and their dialogue. That feels like you're really getting to the crux of it and not so much focusing on the tech, which you know, a lot of creations could go in different ways and that is something people are keen to focus on. But this is a very real human connection story as well.

CG: Yeah, definitely. It was definitely something in my head where I just thought, "Well actually, what I'd really like is to explore what the personal experience would be for someone on a day-to-day life level and also emotionally. What happens to you when you start changing and taking these things on and everything."

And I was very much thinking about things like where the boundary of yourself ends and if that is blurred with other people, with other things. And working in audio, I just felt like it was such an opportunity to tell this story in an audio way, in a way using sound and everything. I thought it was possibly the best sort of form to tell this particular story and this content, if you like.

AW: So, you've had a chance to watch Nana Mensah and Raul Castillo in the studio and bring this work to life. Has it been exactly the way you imagined? What was it like for you to see it? Is it different than seeing a stage show come to life?

CG: Yeah, very much so. With a stage play, you've got a couple of weeks for rehearsal. You know, you take a lot of time with the script and talk through a lot of things and you go through quite a different longer process with actors and everything.

This is very fast. This is three days, so it's a very contracted part of this experience. Still, we're going through what certain lines meaning and the subtext of everything. But the nice thing is that you can immediately hear it in performance, so the actors don't have to learn their lines. They can read it in different ways and you kind of go, "Okay, that's done." So, it's a much faster process and you need to make decisions faster. In some ways, that's a really good thing as well, because you're like, "Okay, I'm going to go with my instinct. That's the best way to go with it."

And they both are really great. I was really thrilled to have them. They're so good with the characters and they're bringing quite a lot to it, so that's good.

AW: Did you have any input in their casting?

CG: Yes, I did actually. What's been so great about this whole experience is I've been consulted at every step of the way. I was asked to put forward some names initially. We went through a lot of different ideas with casting, because I wanted to open it up and really look at what did we want for our characters. So yes, I was very involved at every level, which is really good.

AW: I kind of love that you never give the main characters' names. They are known as "He" and "She". I think I know what that means, but can you share your thought process in that decision?

CG: Yeah, initially I was thinking, because the way I come up with names is quite random. I'm like, "Oh, what's the name in my head right now? Okay, I'll call this character that." It's really not very intellectual, really deep.

AW: It's not breaking it down.

CG: Yeah, no. Just like, "Oh, what does this name mean and the meanings?" Yeah, I'm not really good at that. But I think the reason I kept them as sort of anonymous is because I wanted to get a sense of, you know, they are moving to a different place by the end of the play. And there's kind of like giving them a sense of every human, if you like, as opposed to every man.

CG: And also, I just felt like names were really limiting for this particular story and where they ended up. I didn't want to call them Dave, and Dave is completely Dave 2000 by the end of it, whatever.

AW: He's now Hal.

CG: Yeah, I know. He totally changes his identity, so I think it was just more freeing for me in terms of character and thinking, "Where's this character going to go?" Sometimes when you name your characters, you're like, "Oh, this person." Like, it's that type of person. And it gets a little bit limiting.

AW: I can understand that.

CG: Okay, good.

AW: That's what I was hoping.

CG: Four marks, yeah.

AW: There's a lot going on in here, and I feel like I was picking up on the sense of growth. What themes were you hoping to explore when you set out to write it and did that change at all in the process?

CG:  At first, it was a sort of intellectual interest in transhumanism, and I was like, "Yeah, that would be really cool if I did a story about that," because I love science and technology in general, and inventions and things like that. So I'm like, "Oh, yes! Go for that."

So initially, it was just really an interest in that and then doing lots of research into that. And I think at the core of it, it was always a theme around humanness and what makes someone human and how that could change, or maybe that stays the same.

But then it started being much more about a sense of identity. I guess that's what sort of runs in all my work--the sense of identity and belonging and belonging to your world and landscape and how that changes.

And a big theme is how our identity is shaped by our surroundings and our landscape and the pressures within and what we become and what sort of changing identities--things like that. And adapting to your environment.

I moved around a lot when I grew up so a lot of the time, that's what I was doing. I was just like, "Okay, what's this place like? Okay, let me get the clues. Okay, who are the people?" That sort of thing. And then for myself, being able to adapt in order to belong to that particular place. It was like a constant process of change and being able to fit in wherever I was.

So, that's a really strong theme in terms of that sort of belonging and identity. And it's just taken into a different context of futuristic, if you like.

AW: Feels like you take that concept of adaptability as well, because you have those strong themes regardless of the tonality of your work, whether it's comedy or dark comedy.

CG: Yeah, yeah. Very much so. Yeah.

AW: That is important. That you are able to apply that touch regardless of the larger genre.

CG: Yeah, very much so. I'm always interested in those stories where if the people of the world are able to adapt to their world or they're not able to adapt to their world. And what the consequences of both those things might be.

AW: You'd mentioned that the nine-month turnaround was kind of fast. What is your usual writing process like?

CG: Much longer than that. In writing for theater as well, a lot of the time is research and development, trying to get funding, all those sorts of things. So it extends the writing time.

And this is the first time that I've been able to write within the shorter time frame. Before it was about maybe a year and a half, two years... But now I know I can do it faster, so there's no excuse.

AW: It's crazy what a deadline will...

CG: Yeah, I know. Exactly.

AW: I only work on deadlines or else nothing's getting done.

CG: Yeah, exactly. Me too. I'm like, "When's the next deadline? I'll do it. Okay."

AW: Speaking of next deadlines and next steps, have you already moved on to thinking about what your next work will be or how does that work for you?

CG:  I was working on a play just before Audible, which I'm looking at placing at the moment and where that's going to be, looking at themes like climate change and legacy and that sort of thing.

So, when I'm finished here, I'll be putting my full force and attention on that, you know shifting the mindset back to that one.

AW: Perfect. Last question. When this hits Audible and people get to download it and listen to it, what are you hoping that they take away from it? How do you hope it will connect with them?

CG: I hope it's entertaining, first and foremost. I think that's really important to be entertaining and, you know, something that people want to listen to.

I think I'd like it to be thought-provoking. I'd like it be something really engaging. Hopefully, people enjoy it but also maybe think about those questions in the context of [the future] as we start looking at the ethics of upgrading people and integrating tech into ourselves. This is like a conversation-starter, let's say. But also, I hope it's an engaging emotional experience as well, because it's not a lecture. It's a story. So hopefully, people can take a bit more away than just going, "Hmmm. Yes. Interesting idea."

AW: Right. It's not an academic endeavor.

CG: No, exactly. It's supposed to be fun.

AW: I think people will definitely be entertained, and I'm looking forward to it entering the world and maybe getting more things from you for Audible.

CG: Oh, yes. You know where I am. I can do it in nine months, so yeah. [Laughs]

AW: The powers-that-be are listening. Carla, thank you so much for joining us today.

CG: Thank you so much.

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