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Interview with David A. Miller

An interview with David A. Miller about his new play Sisters of the Eternal Knot, the first play of the Open Rehearsal Series 2013.  Hear the play-in-progress on Thursday, June 20 at 7:00pm at ART/NY Midtown.

Synopsis of Sisters of the Eternal Knot: Sister Ida and Sister Odelina, living in the lowlands of medieval France, have been at odds since their youth. As the leaders of abbeys Ciel Bleu and Rouge, their life-long antagonism with one another grows dangerous: the choices they make may result the life or death of the nuns they serve. Will secrets about their past relationship bring them to peace?

Medieval-1Where did you get the idea to write this play?

Last November I read about the “Joining Pen and Sword” competition, sponsored by the Chicago theatre company Babes with Blades. It was an intriguing challenge: To write a full length play that includes stage combat, has women in most or all of the primary roles, women in all or most of the combat. And the play had to be inspired by and contain dramatized moments of two specific paintings. (The paintings, by Gabriella Boros, had no titles, but the files were named “Medieval 1” and “Medieval 2”.) They began to resonate in my imagination. I wanted to know more about who these violent, robed and hooded women were.

Do you have any personal experiences with nuns that influenced you?

There’s nothing particularly specific that influences this play, but I was raised Catholic and that is probably part of my connection to the world. I have family members very active in the church. One family member is a former nun and another who is a former Lasallian brother. And while writing the play I learned that a family friend I used to babysit recently joined the sisterhood. So it’s a culture that is in my psyche somehow.

Medieval-2What drew you to Medieval France?

There was a sense that these nuns were from somewhere in Europe… I didn’t know where. And as I started researching medieval nuns, I found some really interesting information about France specifically. One book in particular, Equal in Monastic Profession: Religious Women in Medieval France, has been a incredible resource to me in understanding the daily life and structure of religious life. It may have been finding this book that inspired me to place the play there.

What challenges did you face as you created the world of Sister Ida and Sister Odelina?
Figuring out what actually happens in a medieval monastery and then giving myself the freedom to make imaginative choices that stray from the research has been a great challenge. I also gave myself the personal challenge of creating as many characters as necessary to tell the story. (It sometimes feels that there should be a limit to the number of characters so that the play is “produce-able”. Artistic Directors are often limited by their budgets and additional actors cost money.) As a result, I have 10 characters in the play. Finding ways to make each of their story lines clear and substantive is a new challenge for me with this play.

Was there a message you were trying to get across when you wrote this play?

I don’t set out to communicate a message, per se, but when I reflect on my plays and how they reflect my values, I see that in many of my plays I am interested in the complicated role of leaders and teachers. There are good leaders and teachers and there are poor leaders and teachers. But it’s not as cut and dried as that. One of the questions I want to pose to audiences is “What are the qualities of a good leader?” There’s something of that in this play, I think. Ida and Odelina are leaders of their respective houses. Their leadership styles, and that of their predecessor (Prioress Ragonde), are very different from one another…

The ORS works with plays still in development, what aspects of the play are you still looking to explore?

Clarity is the first thing that I want to explore. In hearing questions from fellow artists about the characters, relationships and plot, make it clear to me what is not clear in the script. Is the story that I am telling clear? Second, is the story compelling? At the root of drama, of course, is conflict. How can I make the conflict, particularly between Ida and Odelina clear and compelling? In the writing process I am learning a lot about who they are as characters and their shared history, but I know that there is much more to learn about them and that having smart actors play the roles will illuminate new possibilities for who they are and what they want from one another.

david-a-miller-color-w100David A. Miller is a director, playwright and educator. He is the Artistic Director of the Conspirators. His plays include A Lesson in Art,Mystic in the Savage State (ORS 2010) and Journeyman of Breuckelen (ORS 2011). He directed last year’s production of Leaving IKEA for the Conspirators. He directs regularly for Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth, TX; past productions include WittenbergBelow the Belt and Gutenberg! The Musical!  David teaches acting, directing and playwriting and directs productions at Bloomsburg University.  He has an MFA in Directing from Rutgers University. Drama League Directing Project alumnus. In July, he will direct a staged reading of Alice Unraveled, a new rock musical, for NYMF.

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