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1100 Playwright Interviews

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Sep 29, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 999: Melissa Ross

Melissa Ross

Hometown: All over Massachusetts

Current Town: NYC

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  A few plays that are hard to write and so I keep trying to write them and then I don't write them and then I talk a lot about writing them and then I write a little more and then I think about them and read books that are thematically relevant and talk about writer's block and then I try to write a few more pages and around I go again. Lately writing has felt a little three steps forward two steps back. Moving in the right direction - but painstakingly slow.

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

A:  When I was about six or seven I wrote a short story that I thought was very intense and serious. And I remember all of the adults reading it and laughing and talking about how it was so great because it was so funny. And I was totally confused. And frustrated. And a little bit disappointed. Because in my head very dramatic high stakes things were happening in this short story. I don't think too much about what is funny when I'm writing. Whenever I try to write a joke it usually fails horribly. Because regular people don't often speak in well crafted jokes - and so I think the writing immediately shows itself. I often find that the parts of my plays that people find the funniest - are the moments of heightened anger or frustration or almost unbearable awkwardness.

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

A:  The ability to have more inclusive audiences. I go to see theater and it's often the same mix of subscribers and theater industry people. I was working in a nursing home once and I kept thinking. Wouldn't it be so great to bring pieces of currently running plays to the elderly since a lot of them never get out anymore. I also used to teach teens and I tried to bring them to plays with me as much as I could. Theater is such a wonderful thing. And there should be more ways to make it accessible to more people.

Q:  What are some of your favorite theatrical moments or performances?

A:  The final scene between John Ortiz and Ron Cephas Jones in Jesus Hopped the A Train. Kristine Nielsen's phone monologue in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Cherry Jones's last moment in Doubt. A Juilliard workshop of a play called The Last Pair of Earlies by Josh Allen. Philip Seymour Hoffman in Jack Goes Boating. Elizabeth Rodriguez's Saint Monica monologue in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Amy Morton's "I'm running things now!" in August Osage County. Ian Rickson's The Seagull. Katrina Lenk singing Omar Sharif in The Band's Visit. Carrie Coon in Mary Jane. Every single second of The Humans.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love plays where the writer is risking something personal to tell the story. That doesn't necessarily mean autobiographical. I think the plays that writers want to hide away from view are the plays that desperately need to be seen. Sometimes the more personal something gets it eventually turns a corner into being universal. People talk a lot about actors leaving their hearts on the stage - but I think writers do it too. When a writer leaves their heart on the stage - the feeling in the theater is palpable. It's the most beautiful thing to be in the audience when that happens.

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

A:  Oh gosh read everything. Read so many plays. Read anything you can find at the library. Ask lots of different people what their ten favorite plays are and then read as many of those as you can. Read plays by writers who don't write the kinds of plays you think you like. Get together with your friends and read plays out loud because it's the best. Try to see plays produced that you've read so you can see what was on the page and what wasn't. Get your friends together and put up a play in whatever space you can. If you've never been an actor before - take an acting class so you understand the process of learning lines and making active choices. If you are going to write for actors I think it's so important to experience first hand what it means to bring text to life. And to have empathy and appreciation for what actors do.

Q:  When not writing on a computer, what's your go-to paper and writing utensil? When on computer, what's your font?

A:  I actually write all of my plays longhand. I eventually get to a computer but the first draft is all pen and paper. I used to love classic black and white composition books. When I got older I graduated to the faux leather moleskin with the elastic placekeeper. I like all pens. I switch it up. Sometimes I like a ball point. Sometimes I like a roller ball. Sometimes I like a razor felt tip. I also have a weird and random collection of pens from hotels that wasn't intentional but now it's definitely a thing.

My go-to font is Bookman Old Style. I am also possibly the only playwright who writes in Word. People always say "But if you write in Final Draft you don't have to keep writing the character's name and centering it!" But I guess I like typing the character's name. And centering it.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  This winter - Nice Girl will be at The Raven Theatre in Chicago directed by Lauren Shouse. And then in the spring my play An Entomologist's Love Story will be at San Francisco Playhouse directed by Giovanna Sardelli.

Oh and go see the ESPA Drills readings next week!

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