Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors

Jessi D. Hill and Winter Miller

Planet Connections Theatre Festival
is holding its annual Gala
Playwrights’ Against Hunger: One-Acts for a Cause
on June 22nd PC-logo

This year’s Gala is raising money and awareness for City Harvest. PCTF asked four wonderful playwrights -Israel Horovitz, Erik Ehn, Winter Miller and Wendy MacLeod- to contribute works based on the concept of hunger in today’s world. And to help bring these plays to life, they invited four wonderful directors -Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Jessi D. Hill, Mia Rovegna and Glory Kadigan herself- to lead the charge! Directing a play for a specific event gives both directors and writers a unique playground within which to work.

DirectorSpeak, a blog about OOB directors by Cat Parker, was given access to each of these teams to talk a little bit about the Gala, and working with Planet Connections.

Our third interview with the Gala Directors & Playwrights is with the talented duo of JESSI D. HILL and WINTER MILLER, director and playwright respectively, of SNAP.

CP: Welcome to you both! Thank you for doing this interview. Let’s start off talking a bit about what drew you to working with Planet Connections.

JH: I think my company and Planet Connections share connecting art and community as a central value.  So much of what I get out of my work is about reveling in the joy and power of bringing seemingly separate artistic communities together to make new work.  I have been searching for a way to work with Winter for a while and was thrilled she asked me to direct her play.  It’s through Winter that I’ve been introduced to the wonderful Planet Connections community and feel truly honored to have the chance to work with this essential organization.

CP: Winter, this is your second year participating in PCTF’s gala, and you’ve said that you felt very aligned with their mission. How beneficial is it for a playwright to have a forum that supports your beliefs?

Winter Miller

Winter Miller

WM: I partner with PCTF because they have a forum that I think is good for theater and good for activists, so it’s a pretty easy sell to volunteer. I think service is an important part of any job anyway, and part of the privilege of having a voice is using it to create dialogue where dialogue is needed. I don’t tend to attract institutions that aren’t liberal and progressive to my work because my ideals, questions and beliefs are in the work, so if institutions aren’t aligned with those political beliefs they’re mostly likely not going to be compelled to present the play. I think art is a political statement–it has a point of view, or it raises a question about a particular set of beliefs or actions and that is a political act. I think polemical work tends to be pretty dull, there’s not much room in it to wander around and get lost and ask questions. I like that PCTF is ecofriendly, so much of theater is wasteful and we are so accustomed to it that many of us–myself included–are unaware because we fall into familiar patterns or expectations about what theater is or looks like. 

CP: And you brought Jessi into the project. How beneficial can a good director be to a playwright?

WM: A good director knows how to interpret a play. A bad director will kill a play. I don’t even mean that figuratively. For me, the ideal relationship between writer and director is communicative and open, we elevate each other’s ideas and visions and it’s a conversation, there’s a time for improvisation and questioning and then there’s a time to hit the marks and then there’s a time to open it up again and let it breathe and surprise.

CP:  Let’s talk a little bit about the play.Snap” talks about a typical middle-class family trying to live off of SNAP benefits. Where did the inspiration for this play originate?

WM: I work in a soup kitchen once a month and there’s a woman who used to come in–I haven’t seen her in awhile–and one of the other volunteers who was there frequently told me she has a brownstone in Park Slope but she eats at the soup kitchen. I found this a paradox–what seemed to me to be highly unethical and yet what could you do, and what if he was wrong about her living quarters? But the idea was interesting. But Israel had already set his play in a soup kitchen and I thought, I think I’ll take a step back. I was looking at what the benefits are for a family of four and I thought, this is a very difficult amount to try to live off of. I take for granted that there will always be something in the cupboard–maybe not my first choice–but I’ve never gone hungry–and that is a privileged existence. So I wanted to see what this middle class family would do when faced with restrictions for only a week. It got pretty weird in that family, you started to see a very private side of their characters. Go on the SNAP website and poke around: Or look around and see what the income levels are and what kind of support you could get. It’s sobering when you compare the allotment to the high cost of food–fresh produce–and estimate what you could afford and how your balancing act would shift.

CP: Jessi, I’ve heard that “Snap” has a video element to it. Do you enjoy mixing media when you direct?

Jessi D. Hill

Jessi D. Hill

JH: I do enjoy it. Especially when it is as crucial of a design element as it is in this play! Each character has a “video blog” that they’re creating that’s juxtaposed with the live action in the play.

CP:  How important are the visual elements for you when you are directing?

JH: It’s everything.  My background is in fine art and I worked for many years in the past as a professional scenic artist, so I think I’m just naturally inclined to compose, render and interpret visually. I also I tend to hear the play as music when I read it for the first time and that music almost immediately allows me to begin to see the shape, color and texture of all the elements.  I draw a lot of pictures when I direct and often look for visual stimulation as inspiration.

CP: As Associate Artistic Director for terraNova, you have access to some of the most fascinating talents in NYC. What do you look for in new projects?

JH: I recently revised terraNOVA’s artistic mission statement which I think says it best: terraNOVA Collective is an ever-expanding collective of artists devoted to nurturing distinct and innovative theatrical voices. We are dedicated to cultivating environments where the art of storytelling thrives, and actively seek stages for the new theatre we develop. We celebrate the energetic diversity of live performance by supporting a refreshing variety of dynamic and contrasting works that provide remarkable physical and spiritual challenges for artists. We believe theatre’s highest purpose is to entertain by engaging our artists and audiences in examinations and discussions of the human condition, crossing lines of race, status, gender, sexuality, status, and culture, maintaining a global perspective in all facets of our art. We believe in the power of creating community around our art-making and actively seek opportunities for the new theatre we cultivate to expand our artist community and our audiences.

CP: What do you find most inspirational about directing theatre in New York City?

JH: I created and curate an annual playwrights group through terraNOVA (The Groundbreakers) where the goal is to inspire the playwrights with feedback and support from other writers from diverse backgrounds and points of view. I’m constantly inspired by the myriad of artists I meet from an array of backgrounds, working in so many different performance mediums.  Also, working in NYC as a freelance director has given me the opportunity explore creating collaborations with many different artistic communities in my own work- musicians, magicians, painters, puppeteers, etc.

CP:  It’s true – NYC has so many talented people in it, from all walks of life. It’s hard NOT to be inspired here! Thank you both very much for taking the time to do this interview, and thanks for offering your talents to help PCTF do so much good for our community. I wish you many broken legs at the Gala!

There you have it, friends! I’m looking forward to seeing you at the various shows at Planet Connections Theatre Festival and especially at the Gala!

[To Read Interviews with the other Gala participants, please click here.]






2 comments on “Jessi D. Hill and Winter Miller

  1. Pingback: Jessi D. Hill and Winter Miller | Tinseltown Times

  2. Pingback: Special Post: Gala Directors | DirectorSpeak

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