Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 803: Mêlisa Annis



Mêlisa Annis

Hometown:  Cardiff, Wales.

Current Town:  Brooklyn, NY.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I like to spin plates. Where to start…? I’m working on a new play that I’m very excited about. The first draft was a bit of a fever dream, and I banged it out in four days so I’m working through it now making changes, trying to make sense of it all. In all honesty, I was worried this summer - having just finished grad school - that I was all played out, so it was a welcome relief to get started on a new play again, organically and with enthusiasm. It’s a scary play, it scares me, and so I think I’m on the right track.

This fall has been a fall of new adventure. I’ve started collaborating with a group of extremely talented writers and producers on a TV pilot called “Sterling Place” (http://www.668productions.com/). We meet twice a week, move cue cards around walls, write some, laugh lots and get loads of work done. It turns out collaboration doesn’t have to be a hard slog at all; it can be a total creative pleasure.

I’m also working on a play cycle that uses both the Welsh and English language. The play spans 60 years in an immigrant home in Pennsylvania and it’s loosely based on the experiences of the family of Frank Lloyd Wright.

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

A:  I’ve always been a mutterer. I would reconstruct conversations in my head, create new conversations with imaginary people and go through the emotional rollercoaster that was experiencing these imagined conversations. I’d mutter out loud while walking home from the school bus or whenever I was alone really. Perhaps it’s because I’m an only child? People often looked at me quite strangely. Thankfully, when I was eleven or so, my mother gave me her Walkman and it seemed as though I was just singing along to Take That or whatever it was I was supposed to be listening to.

I’m still a mutterer. Perhaps because I’m from a family of actors, poets and other creative types, no one ever told me to stop. I would be the worst witness and I’d be so worried that I filled in the gaps with my imagination. My husband calls me “Mêlisa, the Minister of Misinformation”. Playwriting has been a savior to me in many ways. My muttering is less intense when I’m working on a play because I can channel all of that emotion and imagination into my pages instead of out loud on the street.

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

A:  One thing…? Whew – that’s hard. If I could change one thing it would be the way we fund theater in this country. In my opinion, theater – and the creative arts in general – needs time, space and money to grow, and we have very little of those things, especially in NY. It’s hard to take risks in a city where time is at a premium, and it’s even harder to fail when you are gambling with investor/producer money and high-ticket prices. Failure should be a part of the process, not something that ends a career. You can only experiment with failure when you have the space to do so.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Wales has a very rich theatrical history, and the majority of the plays I read as a young adult were by Welsh language playwrights. They still have great influence on me. Gwenlyn Parry introduced me to the world of the absurd, Meic Povey taught me how painful theater can be, Saunders Lewis played with language and adaptation in the most spectacular of ways and the Welsh language Panto taught me – from a very young age - that theater can be fun and entertaining.

I’ve also met a wealth of amazing people over the past ten years in NYC. I was lucky enough to assist Theresa Rebeck last year and she has taught me the true meaning of being a hard working playwright. Cusi Cram continues to inspire the better, kinder and more spiritual side of me, and Stefanie Zadravec who recently helped me understand that I didn’t have to be afraid of what I write. Her encouragement was everything at a time when I needed it. And of course Melissa Ross who makes me want to be a better Pisces and playwright! We have some amazing female playwrights in this city, and they continue to inspire me daily.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that makes me feel, that opens my heart to learning about a new experience and perspective and adjusts the way I think about the world. This comes in a million shapes and sizes.

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

A:  I’m learning to stop comparing myself to everyone else. It’s hard but essential. If you don’t it will cripple you and suffocate your writing. Once you get a handle on that, make friends with playwrights, we’re fun, a little weird but very supportive of each other.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Follow my twitter! Then I can tell you about the donuts I’ve eaten, my frustration with the MTA and of course give you info when I have plays for you to see. @melisaannis

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