Melanie Moyer Williams, a cum laude graduate of Duke University, is the Founder and Executive Artistic Director of The Red Fern Theatre Company. Her directing credits for the company include the New York Premiere of Shirley Lauro’s "All Through Night," the World Premiere of "A Shot Away: Personal Accounts of Military Trauma," "Miss Evers’ Boys from +30NYC" and "The Exonerated," among others. Her other directing credits include the World Premiere of "Henry Kissinger" (FringeNYC), "That Is The Question" in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival (named one of the Best in the Festival) and "A Tribute To Andrew Lloyd Webber" with the Youth Symphony Orchestra of El Salvador in El Salvador with Wanderlust Theatre Company.
Melanie is currently directing The Red Fern Theatre Company's World Premiere production of "We in Silence Hear a Whisper" written by Jon Kern. "We in Silence Hear a Whisper" tells the story of a Darfuri refugee who, to lay her brother’s soul to rest, must escape the relentless Man on the Horse as she's chased through the wilds of the Sudan down into the landscape of her own mind. With riveting action, surprising humor and elegant puppetry, We in Silence Hear a Whisper explores the redemptive power of connection and how the greatest tragedies only happen when we look away.
1. Who or what inspired you to go into theatre? I came to NYC as a performer and while I haven’t give up that “side of the table,” directing and producing has been my focus since starting Red Fern. My mom initially brought me to the theater (I accompanied her to an audition for the community production of Oliver as a kid). Along the journey from that orphan in Oliver, I played opposite of a woman named Lisa Paden Gaines whose work ethic and love for the theater really made an impression on me. Then while at Duke University I saw the power of political theater and found a passion for directing with two of my professors Jody McAuliffe and Jeff Storer. All of these people continue to support me, and I find inspiration from them regularly.
2. How did you decide to start The Red Fern Theatre? How has the company grown over the past 5 years? The idea behind Red Fern Theatre grew from a desire to produce CANDLES TO THE SUN by Tennessee Williams. I had to make a proposal on a Williams’ play for an application. I went to the Drama Book Shop and poured through the Tennessee Williams section determined not to do his most well known works and found this little known play that I desperately wanted to see on the stage. It was right around the time of the Sago Mine incident in Pennsylvania. We immediately asked for the rights to do the play but we discovered just like many other smaller companies in NY, his estate does not allow his plays to be produced in New York unless you are on Broadway. We had the idea to produce a play to raise money for a cause and decided to produce PATIENT A by Lee Blessing. We partnered it with my first job in NYC – Rivington House, a long term AIDS facility and Village Care of New York. I majored in theater and international relations/human rights violations in college. I finally found a way to use both of my majors!
Since then, the company has grown, and I have made many new friends through our productions. Most recently, I reconnected with Ken Hall, a close friend from Duke, and asked him to serve as the Managing Director for the company. It has been wonderful working with one another again as we have very similar work styles and complementary strengths.
3. I think it's great that The Red Fern Theatre produces plays that deal various social issues and that a portion of the proceeds go to a specific philanthropy affiliated with the social issue being performed. How do you decide that this would be the concept behind The Red Fern Theatre? There are many socially conscious companies in NYC, but they do not go beyond introducing an issue to their audiences. We want to say – here’s a problem and here’s an organization making a difference in this area. Basically, putting your money where your mouth is. We have seen our partnerships really make a difference both from audience members seeking help as well as volunteering time and money to them.
4. How do you decide which issues you will address and how do you team up with a specific philanthropy? Some of the issues are ones that resonate most closely with me, but some of them are driven by current events or in the case of our current production, current events that have been forgotten. We research organizations in the city tackling the problem and narrow it down to two or three options. We then call them to gauge their interest in a partnership and decide from there.
5. With everything NYC represents to social change, I feel that NYC is a great place for your theatre company. Why do you think NYC makes a good home for The Red Fern Theatre and what do you think NYC has to offer as The Red Fern Theatre's home that another city would not? NYC is the ultimate melting pot and now that we are a resident company on the lower east side (the original melting pot in NYC) we feel especially connected to the city. No matter what issue we decide to tackle there will always be a group in New York that is significantly impacted by it. I feel we can really make a difference here and often give voice to an organization as small as we are.
6. If you could produce any show, what show would you choose? If you could work with any philanthropy, which one would you choose? I am still determined to produce/direct CANDLES TO THE SUN – one day. I would love to partner with Habitat for Humanity on a production. The work they do and the number of lives they touch is so real. I’ve also led multiple international trips for them and indirectly met my husband through volunteering with them so they are quite special to me.
7. What has been the best part about having your own theatre company and what have you learned about yourself from having your own theatre company? The best part is really being able to hand pick the plays and issues you tackle and the people with whom you collaborate. Running a non-profit takes a village and I’ve been fortunate to meet some amazing artists along the way. I’ve learned you can make a difference even if it is just for one person. And that difference for one person makes it all worth it. I wish I could say I have learned to delegate. I still have a problem with that one, but I am getting better with each artist I bring into the company.
8. What is your favorite part of the creative process in producing a show? Some people would call me crazy because it’s one of the most stressful parts, but I love that first day in the theater with the actors when you finally start to see that image in your head manifest itself on the stage.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? Say yes and then figure it out. This advice was actually given to me as an actor and it’s how I got my SAG card. I was asked if I could play basketball for an episode of ED on NBC. I said yes (I went to Duke – I had seen enough basketball to figure it out, right?). I immediately called my then boyfriend/now husband who played basketball, and we spent the weekend on one of the public courts with him teaching me how to play and not just watch. My Managing Director would probably say it’s the worst from a budget standpoint, but it just forces us be more creative to make the wildest of ideas come to life.
10. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Sleep? What is that?
11. Favorite way to spend your day off? I love the beach! I’m also training for the NY Marathon so whether I want to or not, I’m running.
12. Favorite skin care product? Carmex and these days because of running – BioFreeze. Favorite kind of shoes? Manolo Blahnik, and one day, I’ll own a pair. :)
13. Favorite website? www.redferntheatre.org
14. "Glinda" or "Elphaba"? Elphaba. Hands down.