Saturday, October 06, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 500: Susan Miller




Susan Miller

Hometown: Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Born in Philadelphia.

Current Town: New York

Q:  Tell me about Anyone But Me.

A:  It’s only been my life every day for the past 4 years! One of the most artistically freeing and satisfying pieces of work I’ve ever done. Because I didn’t have to wait for anyone else to tell me I could.

“Anyone But Me” is a drama webseries I write and executive produce with creative partner, Tina Cesa Ward. In three seasons we’ve grown to over 13 million views worldwide. And in 2011 we won the first Writers Guild Award ever given for Original New Media. It’s a show about young people, gay straight and ethnically diverse, struggling with identity and modern relationships. We got very lucky in casting our leads just a year out of NYU and Rutgers. The chemistry was there, and we just mined it. The stories we tell speak to people who aren’t used to seeing themselves represented in the mainstream, so we developed a huge niche audience. The main characters are two girls in love. You don’t see that too often in any real way. Though, I think the reason our reach goes beyond age and gender is that none of us ever really gets over the drama that is high school. I mean, do we?

If anyone’s interested in the full story of how a playwright such as myself got into this webseries business, I wrote a piece for American Theatre about my journey with the show and how I think playwrights are beginning to understand and seriously consider writing for the web. Here’s the link: http://susanmillerplaywright.com/Main/ArticlesbySusanMiller.html

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I have a commission to write a new play. But, I can’t tell you what it is. Actually, I still don’t know what it is. Except to say that if I can pull it off, it’s something that will bring some of the most powerfully talented, sexy women on stage together. In the meantime, I’m doing a lot of walking around the city and sitting in cafes to see if any of them inspire me to do more than drink double espressos.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  You know that’s impossible, right?

Okay, so I’m five. I live in a small town. On a street with a haunted house on one corner and a garment factory on the other. This one afternoon my parents have to make a quick run to the neighborhood store. I beg them to let me stay by myself. I promise I won’t go outside. I wont answer the door. I’ll stay right here on the couch. But, I don’t. I can’t. I’m drawn to the world. So when I think it’s safe, I unlock the door and take my little self to where it’s forbidden to go. And, to feel what it’s like to be on the street without anyone to catch me if I fall is completely thrilling. So, then, of course, I fall. I’m running with abandon and I fall, skinning my knees bloody. When my parents come home, I’m on the couch, as I said I’d be, crying with shame and need. My parents, on the other hand, are just glad I’m alive. They didn’t punish me. They gave me comfort. And I guess they understood that this is who I’d be. The good rebel. A badass struggling with her badassity. Which says as much about my mother and father as it does about me.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  I’d do it all in a garage.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Joseph Papp. He wasn’t afraid to say yes. One day, some time after he’d produced two of my plays, and after I’d sent him the latest one, I got word he wanted to meet me in his office. His wife, Gail, who was head of play development at the Public, was there. And I brought my friend actress/writer Kathryn Grody along as a witness to whatever might happen. Joe began to read my play out loud. After he got through the entire thing, he said to me, “You know I’m doing this play?” I didn’t. Neither did anyone else in the room. “It’s the first one I’ve chosen for the new season.” I could see he’d made up his mind on the spot. No other readings in development hell necessary. On opening night, he sent me this handwritten note, which I keep on my desk to this day: “Dear Susan - I love your play and probably enjoy hearing your distinct voice more than almost any living creature. Best of luck, Joe.”

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Work that’s palpably original and takes it on. Something that stirs the air and leaves me wanting to make something that good of my own.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Write plays only you can write, goddamit!

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Watch “Anyone But Me” on Hulu, YouTube or on our website: www.AnyoneButMeSeries.com

For more about my work: www.susanmillerplaywright.com

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