Supporting creative work by women
This interview with the amazing Christine Renee Miller was scheduled to run last month during the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival, but due to the technical difficulties, it did not post. MOTHER–the show she directed in FringeNYC–returns for two performances tonight and tomorrow night, September 26th and 27th, at the Celebration of Whimsy in downtown Manhattan.
Christine is a performer, writer, director and teacher. She currently helms one of the Go Solo classes–Create Your Own Solo show classes developed by Matt Hoverman. She spoke with Works by Women about directing pieces, her own solo show Baby Cow and what’s next for her.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Tell me about MOTHER and how you became involved in the piece.
CHRISTINE RENEE MILLER: MOTHER is the autobiographical story of how Melinda Buckley, a middle-aged ex Broadway performer, manages her mother, a larger-than-life Hungarian “Mama Rose”, who slips into dementia. They’re both losing themselves and each other all the while struggling through the American medical system. Melinda actually approached me over a year ago to work on her show but I was directing Big Dummy at the time, a solo show by Mary Dimino. I couldn’t work with Melinda then but she continued to write her show with Matt Hoverman all the while experiencing the difficulty of her mom’s illness. Her mom passed away during that which gave her even more material to work through. After dealing with all the things that comes with death of a loved one – she was accepted into FringeNYC and we began our journey together this summer.
WBW: You’ve had much success participating in FringeNYC. What are you most excited about this year’s FringeNYC and about people seeing MOTHER.
CRM: Yes I’ve had a lot of success with Fringe but I put that down to the excellent actors I was lucky to worth it. Like Mary Dimino who is a hilarious comedian. I directed her show called Scared Skinny, which won an Outstanding Solo Show award in the 2010 Fringe. It’s a show about how she lost over 150 pounds all the while finding out who she was, inside and out. I’m excited about this year’s Fringe because of the continual success of solo work and how artists are taking their creativity in their own hands. MOTHER broaches the tough topic of dementia – I mean how do you make that stuff funny? And yet somehow Melinda will have you laughing about the craziness of it all. She’s a delight to watch – a Broadway veteran who knows what she wants – she’s definitely got big plans for this show. Fringe is just the beginning!
WBW: You also teach with Matt Hoverman how to develop your solo show. What is most gratifyingabout teaching this class? What have you learned from your students?
CRM: Matt has been a mentor to me ever since I took my first writing class with him in 2007. Over the years I’ve directed many of his students and a year ago I took his class again for my second solo show I’m writing. I told him I was getting disheartened by the acting world and wanted to make more of a difference with the work. He asked me if I wanted to take on GoSolo (that’s the new name of the class now). I was beyond touched and humbled by his trust in me. He’s so damn good at what he does I was actually really scared to follow in his foot steps. But he specifically said “Don’t be me – be yourself and bring your experience to the table.” And it’s been a wonderful experience. What I find gratifying is to see the students enter afraid and witness their empowerment as they reveal who they are with each class. They’ve shown me in their own way how to let go of past negative experiences that still have power over us and how truly unique we all are.
WBW: How did you get involved in theater originally?
CRM: Theatre was more of a serendipitous thing actually. I started in TV/Film in Dallas then onto L.A. where I did a lot of sitcom work. I then got into a relationship that took me away from L.A. and I ended up in the middle of New York state freezing my ass off. I was desperate to work and create while my then husband had his job at the university. The local high school drama teacher in our small town knew of my TV work and she needed a director for the spring musical. All of a sudden I was directing 50 high school students in Fiddler on the Roof! It was crazy and hectic and a lot of fun. Ultimately I needed out of that town and my marriage (which is the premise to my first solo show I performed in FringeNYC 2008 called, Baby Cow) and I high tailed it to NYC. I also saw Sarah Jones perform Bridge and Tunnel and she blew me away. I not so humbly said to myself “I can totally do that! I want to do that!” Ever since that show I began this solo show journey and it seems to be a good fit.
WBW: What’s next for you?
CRM: While I’ve enjoyed theater over the last six to seven years, I think my true passion is in the moving picture. What I’m most excited about right now is an animation project of the same name as my first show, Baby Cow, which follows the eight-year-old version of me, and my mixed-race family, living in Texas. I’ll be working with a consultant in the fall to figure out exactly the audience for the show. Baby Cow is a young girl so there’s the youth aspect of it, learning new things, identity, etc. but it’s also set in the 80s with 2D hand drawn animation a la old school Sesame Street. So there’s a lot of nostalgia in it for people in my generation. It’s really cute though and I’m excited about how to get more funding for its evolution. I’m also writing another solo show. It takes place in one day in NY following me as a private yoga teacher going to the homes of the 1% while living my life as a member of the 99%. It’s essentially a show about the haves and the have-nots and hopefully through its humor I can shed light on a real problem in this city.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
CRM: Women struggle in so many fields because of this weird social expectation of who we’re supposed to be. I mean you find it in any profession and in so many different ways; women being marginalized for our looks, our aggressive/not aggressive enough attitudes, the validity of our ideas and expertise. It’s remarkable how far we’ve come with things like the personal computer but when it comes to women, society is still focused on how to minimize our voices. And with the rise of extreme politics that continue to undermine our worth (lack of reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work, etc.) women have to work even harder to make their mark. In American theater perhaps this is the case when it comes to getting work produced. I don’t know the numbers but I imagine it’s like the art world. Many more men get their artwork on gallery and museum walls than do their female contemporaries. I wonder if the numbers are the same in theater? Are more male playwrights getting their work produced than women? How many more male directors are there than women? This also goes for people of color who have additional societal expectations to drudge through. It’s a pain in the ass but thankfully we have creative outlets to air our perspectives.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
CRM: It’s been interesting as a solo show teacher to witness just how many women come through our classes. They have a lot of powerful experiences to share and incredible talent to go with them. I know the theater world will see a rise in women’s voices in every aspect – writing, performing, directing and producing. Women always give me hope. I recently read an article about some of the top inventions that have changed the world. The dishwasher, fire escapes, invisible glass (revolutionary for things like cameras, microscopes, eyeglasses), and the first computer programming language COBOL. What do all these have in common? They were invented by women. Women have and will continue to drastically change our world in the most incredible ways. And to that I say “bad ass!”
For more information about MOTHER, visit here.