Miss (FringeNYC)
An Interview with Michael Ross Albert

Indie Theater Now asked Michael Ross Albert a few questions about his play Miss.

How do you like to develop new plays? For example: do you like to have lots of readings and workshops to hear/see the play as it evolves? Or do you let the characters guide you and then put a more-or-less finished product up on its feet?

I think I benefit most by having actors read my plays out loud as early in the process as possible. I tend to write the first draft of new plays as fast as I can, without abandon. And while I'm working on that first draft, I do let the characters guide the story, and surprise me. But once the first draft is finished, the focus of the work becomes about craftsmanship, structure, justifying characters' motivations, making the text sound natural. Without actors in the room working on the material, that type of work can be a real uphill battle.

How much time passed from your first thinking about the outline for this play and actually finishing the play and how was that time spent?

In this case, it was probably about five years. One morning, I heard a brief news report about a pregnant high school teacher who was seriously injured trying to break up a fight between two students. Even though the news gave only a few specific details about the situation, it was one of those moments I'd heard playwrights talk about before but had never actually experienced myself. I heard the news report and, just like that, I saw the play in its entirety in my head. I wrote the first, maybe twenty minutes of dialogue, and did a lot of shadow writing from one character's perspective, some of which I've incorporated into a speech later on the in play. But I found it overwhelming, emotionally, to go to the places I needed to go to in order exorcise these particular characters' demons. So I put the play away. I never really forgot about it, but was more immediately interested in working on other things. It wasn't until years later, when I least expected it, that the play jumped back into my mind. All of a sudden, for whatever reason, writing it wasn't frightening anymore, it felt like something I had to do.

Why is this a play (as opposed to a TV script, webseries, film, etc.?)

This play is a tense encounter between three people, in one room, in real time. It's only really in the theatre that this type of storytelling style has the power to captivate an audience, and to challenge their perspectives the same way the characters' perspectives are challenged. Watching people navigate an emotionally-charged, high-stakes situation right in front of you, live, is like watching a death-defying stunt. It's exciting, and a bit frightening, because we are complicit in the action. The actors are only taking these giant emotional risks because an audience is watching them. And when it works, the audience can't help but emotionally invest in the characters, themselves. It can be a real thrill.

Do you self-produce or always work with a theater company you are familiar with or do you send your work out to numerous contests, festivals, etc. and how does this work out for you?

I've mostly self-produced my own work. Since 2011, I've been producing plays under the banner of my company, Outside Inside, which I run with my artistic collaborator and dear friend, Kaitlyn Samuel. We've developed a shorthand over the years that makes the producing process very easy, which is important because we both have to wear various hats. On top of handling administrative stuff, we have to, you know, put on a play. Kaitlyn and I are able to share the workload so that if one of us needs to go off and re-write or the other needs to go off and rehearse, we've got each other's back. We also work with the philosophy that, if it isn't fun, it isn't worth doing in the first place. Even with this particular play, which is full of very dark and heavy subject matter, we're finding new ways to have the time of our lives. And that makes the experience of putting on a show independently very worthwhile.

What current topic or issue just cries out to be made into a play?

Unfortunately, all you need to do is look at the news on any given day this year to find a story worthy of being told. The entire world has been touched by so much tragedy recently. And the thing is, the news just tells us the facts. But theatre teaches us about perspective. It teaches us how to empathize. And the world needs some empathy more than ever these days. We have a real tough time seeing ourselves in each other, but it gets easier the more we see different perspectives onstage. Or, at least, I hope it does.

posted July 18, 2016