Friday, August 14, 2015

Playwright Charlotte Miller on Thieves, L.A. and Collaboration

Photo Credit: Jody Christopherson
Charlotte Miller and I spoke about her new play "Thieves" which premiered in Los Angeles last spring at the El Portal's Monroe Forum Theatre, produced by Rising Phoenix Rep, Weathervane Productions and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

"I'm going to scoot into a room with less people that I love," laughs Miller, "less distraction."

She had been living in L.A. with some of the creative team behind the production which included actors Sarah Shaefer, Samantha Soule, Addie Johnson, Chris Bellant, and director Daniel Talbott.

The other cast members, John Wojda and Macleod Andrews were living close-by.

"I kinda loved it."

ONE WHEN DOOR CLOSES...

Thieves started out being a play about a wedding and ended up...about a funeral.

"Ten days before we were scheduled to rehearse, I was working on a draft of the play that was driving me crazy. I was hitting my head against the wall and it was really, really hard, and then I got a call that one of our lead actresses had to drop out."
Photo Credit: Ryan Miller

For a variety of personal and logistical reasons, Miller and Talbott decided to kill off the character.

"Wendy Vanden Heuvel, who was playing the part, is one of my favorite actresses, so it was out of this place of not being able to replace her.  We were sad to lose her because it was written for her. It became a play about a funeral, and inherently much darker."

SITTING SHIVA
or
HOW TO DO AN 8 DAY REWRITE

"I went over to Daniel's house and drank a lot of tea and was like, 'help me storyboard this', so we knocked around the trajectory of the first five scenes - sort of writers' room style - and then I went home, and wrote, and brought back what I had. We kind of figured out the structure of the thing together. I finished the last scene the day before we went into rehearsal, and then we had to totally break it apart and, in another eight days, totally rewrite it."

Photo Credit: Ryan Miller
The play is described as a gritty portrait of a family in struggle and upheaval. Miller's inspiration for the play came from wanting to explore the underbelly of something that is inherently light.

"I had been to my cousin's wedding, and it was a nice wedding, but no matter what, weddings can bring up old tensions. People just kinda misbehave and I found that really interesting."

The rehearsal process began in San Francisco where Miller and the creative team lived, cooked and collaborated together before moving to Los Angeles.

Photo Credit: Ryan Miller
"The L.A. theater community has been so generous and so responsive. We were nervous because you can really strike out and people won't come, but someone from the Actors Studio came the first week, because Daniel and I are part of the playwright/director's unit here in New York, and this sweet thing happened where all these people from the Studio showed up and really liked it. I found that community so supportive."

Miller, like most artists, does a variety of things to make ends meet.

"It's great not having to babysit and work at the Farmers Market and constantly worry about money. It's great being in warm weather during the winter. I just wish my New York friends could see it."

Photo Credit: Ryan Miller
Her wish may come true. "Thieves" is continuing to be developed in New York while Miller juggles several other projects which include a screenplay and TV pilot.

When asked how she deals with the end of a production - a funeral of its own sort - Miller answers, "Usually I try to get into something new right away, but there's no out-running that grief when a play ends. With this one, I didn't plan anything. I'm just going to go to Hawaii to visit my dad and cry." (She laughs)

Charlotte Miller is a Brooklyn-based playwright and performer. Other plays include Raising Jo (PLAYPENN 2010), Favorites (Rising Phoenix Rep), Rocks (the tank), Barn (Rising Phoenix Rep), among others. She has had reading/workshops with Rattlestick, Rising Phoenix Rep, Labyrinth, the Flea, IAMA, Hudson Stages, and the People's Light Theater.

Photo Credits: 
Charlotte Miller: Jody Christopherson
Productions Photos: Ryan Miller