Works by Women

Supporting creative work by women

Interview: Charlotte Miller

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Charlotte Miller is a Texas-bred, NYC-based playwright and actress. She combines her enormous talent this August in her new solo show The Worst Year Ever at the New York International Fringe Festival. The piece looks at the difficulties of being a Texas preteen in the grunge era. She spoke with Works by Women about working at Jimmy’s No. 43, why she’s excited to be part of this year’s FringeNYC and the companies and artists who inspire her.

WORKS BY WOMEN:  How excited are you to be a part of FringeNYC?

CHARLOTTE MILLER: I’m pretty excited about it. I haven’t done it before except as an assistant about eight years ago. This year is fun because I have a few friends who are doing it to so I feel like I’m jumping into the madness of the Fringe with people that I really respect even if I’m not directly involved with their shows. It’s also great because I took a long break from doing any acting to just focus on my writing, I haven’t memorized a line in about four years, so it was good motivation to send in the registration fee and know that I have to get this show together by August 9th. There are a lot of firsts with this show, it’s my first solo show, the first time I’ve gotten on stage in a long time… I feel like the Fringe is a good place to have those experiments, because it’s a festival there’s a feeling of adventure.

WBW:  And your show is at Jimmy’s, a space you are familiar with. What do you love about Jimmy’s?

CM: At this point Jimmy’s is starting to feel like my living room. I actually had a dream that they put a white shag carpet and I was like “No! Jimmy, No!!” My relationship to the space is very simple and magical. Since the space is so tight in the back it gets very “real”. That’s what Daniel Talbott says before the start of each Cino night. That was my introduction to the space, the Cino Nights series that Rising Phoenix Rep did and continues to do at Jimmy’s. It was a pretty earth shattering experience for me, being a in a tight room with bar noises pounding through the walls, listening to plays with some of my favorite actors and writers. The audience was present in this totally different way, we all held our breath a little bit. I got to do a Cino Night and another play called Barn there. Everybody squeezes in, shoulder to shoulder and then we pour out and eat and drink or linger in the back room and talk to each other about life. There’s no back stage but somehow there’s a greater mystery as to why the experiences that I’ve had there have been magical. It’s a place where things have to be about the people and the people that I’ve worked with there have been the best.

WBW: What inspired you to write The Worst Year Ever?

CM: I was watching a lot of “My So-Called Life” and thinking about how I would like to see that kind of show on TV again and also how I would like to write for that kind of TV show, something that would be based on my experience but also totally universal. So I decided to start with a prose format and tried it out on stage. A lot of my plays feel autobiographical but this one is more direct than the others and there is something that is both traumatic and cathartic about that journey. I was also inspired by Mary Karr’s memoirs, which I gobbled up a few years ago, I hadn’t ever read something that was so similar to my experience in Texas growing up but it was also really far away from it too. Those memoirs couldn’t be more different than “My so-called Life” but they both inspired me, one as I was growing up and the other as I was becoming an adult. I wouldn’t actually compare myself with those writers or put myself in the same league but the play came from a similar desire to talk about growing up in the place I come from, Texas, and my experience of growing up there and how that shaped me when I was twelve and things were sort of ripping apart for me.

WBW: What can audiences expect to see in the show?
CM: I literally just described the show to a stranger as a series of monologues about being twelve in Texas and trying to navigate the seventh grade without imploding. I think that’s the best description of it. My director is five years younger than me and she’s from Massachusetts and still we stop work so that we can say “oh me too, that was what it was like for me too!” I think there’s a strange comfort in talking about that time in life, because it’s horrible for everyone, you have so little control and so much is happening to you physically. I have a lot of parents approaching me and asking if they can bring their teenage daughters to the show and when I tell them that there’s a lot of talk about alcohol abuse and abandonment and stuff like that they say “Oh, it’s fine. We need to see this.” So, maybe it’s just the thing of feeling less alone in your experience of the world.

WBW: What’s next for you?

CM: I wrote a show called Barn that Rising Phoenix Rep is going to produce at Jimmy’s in the spring of 2014. My friends Diana Stahl, Brian Miskell, and Sanford Wilson asked me to write a play for them and I did. Then we had four performances in two days last fall and we were thrilled when RPR decided to help us out and make it happen again.

WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?

CM: I think there’s a problem with theater in general, for everyone, an unwillingness to get dirty, like really really dirty in pursuit of magic. I think that people don’t advocate for each other enough in general, just because they like each other’s work, whatever gender they are. Yes of course there are a lot of people who have it better than me and a lot of people that have it worse and this is an infuriating business but I think the only thing I can do is go back and put it into my work. I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t find this business infuriating, but I try to find the people and the circumstances in which I can work with a positive mindset. There are always problems: no money, no space, no audience, no one cares, not enough women, not the “right” kind of feminism, the list goes on and on but those problems are always there, those problems will always be there. The challenge is in finding wild people who want to make wild things with you. 

WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?

CM: Mostly the women in American Theater give me hope. It’s people like Lucy Thurber, Annie Baker, Maria Goyanes, Lisa McNulty… There are so many amazing leaders in American Theater right now, and companies too, RPR has a lot of women playwrights on their roster, Addie and Daniel Talbott are amazing champions of women without needing to have any kind of conversation about it, they just do it, in that same vein there’s Wendy vanden Heuvel too who advocates for work and is a profoundly amazing actress. 13P was really inspiring, not an all woman company but a mostly-woman company. Crystal Skillman inspires me like crazy with her relentless work ethic and beautiful plays, she also looks out for people. Kara Corthron is another amazing writer, someone who looks out for people as well. David Van Asselt and Paul Meshejian are two completely different kinds of people and artistic directors that are men but they have in common that they have this great respect for women in theater. That’s not the end of the list by a lot but the idea is that people are really the thing. The people that do the work.

Tickets for The Worst Year Ever are available at www.FringeNYC.org. The festival runs August 9th – 25th.

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This entry was posted on July 31, 2013 by in Uncategorized.

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