Sunday, June 16, 2013

Planet Connections Interview - Mia Ellis of "Occupied" part of "Sharon's Shorts"

By Byrne Harrison
Group photo by Sharon Cooper

Name: Mia Ellis     
Show: Sharon’s Shorts (Occupied)
Relationship to production (actor/writer/director, etc.): Actor     
Website: You can also go through the playwright’s website:
Mia Ellis is a graduate of the Brown University/Trinity Rep MFA Acting program and is also a teaching artist and writer.  Her regional work includes - Ophelia, Hamlet; Francine/Lena, Clybourne Park; Ghost of Christmas Past and Sister-in-Law, A Christmas Carol. Her TV and film work includes - Person of Interest, What Would You Do, After the Fall.  Other credits include - Parade, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Three Sisters.

How did you first get involved in theatre?

Wow!  Well, there were a few moments that led to my decision to work in the theatre – probably too many to discuss, but I’d have to say that being cast in Annie Jr. is at the top of my list.  The community theater in my hometown of Madison, MS, was auditioning for all the roles, and I got up the nerve to go in for it; I was thirteen and had never been in a play before, let alone a musical.  I fell in love with the entire process from start to finish.

Who are your biggest influences?

My acting teachers in graduate school at Brown University/Trinity Rep, my mentors from Tougaloo College, and my mom influence me the most.  They are all artists in some way and teach me how to own who I am and what I do.  It is through their insight, advice, and guidance that I remember to remain open to growing, changing, and seeing the world with new eyes.

What is your show about?

Occupied is a short play (one of five short plays in the production), about a young woman who decides to ask for something that anyone else would request under the given circumstances.  Her request exposes her vulnerability and forces her to assert herself in a way that reveals some of the reasons why we make demands and strive to be understood.

What inspired this play?

I asked the playwright, Sharon Cooper, to answer this one and she said the following:

Occupied is inspired by the occupy movement, being pissed off at the bank, and the little gal getting her say. It was written as part of the CRY HAVOC Holiday play series, and I am a Resident Playwright with this awesome company.  Occupied had its world premiere as part of CRY HAVOC’s 15th year world-wide celebration in November of 2012 on the same night—in Hungary and Germany. I’m really excited about all of the short plays in Sharon’s Shorts and have never had so many of my short plays produced together. 

Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?

The collaborative spirit of the cast and crew has kept us focused and laughing from the first read through, which took place the last week of April.  This is my first time working with the wonderful Joanna Strange (dir), Sharon E. Cooper (pw), Laura Hirschberg (sm), and seven amazing actors: Hend Ayoub, Will Clark, Kerry Flanagan, Jonathan Horvath, James O’ Brien, Will Shaw, Evelyn Spahr.  What I’ve enjoyed the most about working with this group of artists is that I’m always surprised by each choice they make to tell these five stories in a way that is fun but grounded in truth.

Planet Connections donates a portion of the box office for each show to a charity.  What charity has your production chosen and why?

Our production will be donating to New York Cares.

Here’s a note from Joanna about New York Cares: “For almost 10 years, I get up one Sunday per month at 6:30 AM and head downtown to St. Francis Xavier.  There, I, along with about 20 other volunteers, prep food to feed approximately 1000 homeless men, women and children.  This, however, is not the only thing I have done with New York Cares. I have walked dogs at BARC Animal Shelter. I have delivered meals from God’s Love We Deliver for shut in elderly New Yorkers. I have re-painted an inner city school. I love New York Cares because, essentially, it is a catalogue for thousands of volunteer opportunities per month.  There are over 50,000 volunteers like me working for over 1,300 nonprofits, city agencies, and public schools. What makes this so unique is the sheer volume of various opportunities that one can participate in with only one orientation session. We are proud to be supporting them.”

What's next for you after Planet Connections?

I will be working with a colleague and friend, Lauren Lubow, on producing our one woman shows together.

If you could do one thing to change the world, what would it be?

If I could change the world, there would be more kindness and positive compromise.

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