An Interview with Elaina Mittleman

We sat down to talk with Elaina Mittleman, a playwright of a new work titled Suspended. Elaina Mittleman is also the President/Co-Founder/Artistic Director of Blacklist Theatre. She recently graduated from Meredith College with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and is pursuing a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. As a co-founder of Blacklist, she hopes to create a space in which stories of underrepresented groups can be told and honored. She believes in the importance of art as a vehicle for change and is excited to offer a platform for powerful perspectives. Here is her story.

What inspired you to write Suspended?

Initially, I was inspired by a friend of mine who committed suicide within the last year. I was struggling with the idea that her beautiful mind is no longer in existence. I started to ask myself hard questions about my spiritual beliefs and the possibility of an afterlife, so I wrote it down. Mental health issues, in general, are very important to me and I think that society is still using the wrong language around these issues. We have made great strides in the last few years, but I think we need to focus less on why people are mentally ill and more on what can be done to help.

Who are your greatest influences?

Sarah Ruhl was the first playwright who I really fell in love with. Reading her work inspired a new kind of love for theatre that is outside of the box. She addresses tough issues in a way that is artistic and raw, yet soft. I am just all about it. The poet Jeanann Verlee has also been a huge influence as of late. She candidly recounts her own experiences in a way that is bitingly brave. I love the idea of making something beautiful out of hardship and diving into something that many are afraid to touch.

This is the first show for Blacklist Theatre— why was it important to choose this one?

Blacklist Theatre is a company that has a lot of heart. We all care deeply about the work that we do, so I thought it important to kick off our first season with something very personal. Honestly, at first I was a little hesitant to dive right in a produce a piece that I wrote, but the feedback that I have received on the play made it clear that it fits perfectly into our goals as a company.

If 2017 was a year for anything, it’s a year when Millenials got really into mysticism— crystals, astrology, tarot, and straight up witchcraft. Tarot plays a huge role in your play— why did you choose it?

Yes! I love how we’re opening up to different spiritual ideas. Tarot has always been something of interest for me and as a writer, it served as a great plot device. This is my first one-woman show and I was initially intimidated by the prospect of moving the plot forward using a single voice. I needed to find a way to help the character make discoveries about herself. Tarot is great in that it plays on previously held beliefs. So it worked well for offering a glimpse at the character’s thought process.  

What does it mean to you?

I’m not sure how much clout I’d put into the validity of tarot, but it is something that is important to me. Through my own mental health journey, there was something comforting about turning to the cards when things got tough. For me, it was a way of initiating self-reflection and helping me figure out my next steps.

What do you see in the future for Blacklist theatre?

That is a very big question. I hope to see Blacklist become a respected presence in the community. We’ve seen a lot of great companies in the triangle come and go and I would love to offer a place for artists to continue to create. A huge dream is for us to become financially stable enough to offer compensation to actors, designers, and our production teams. Mounting a production is hard work and those involved deserve payment for their time and efforts.

What do you want people to take away from Suspended?

I don’t want to give too much away, but I really hope Suspended makes an impression. I want audience members to go home and continue to think about the content. Ideally, the relatability of the main character will help to personalize the content for those who have little experience with or understanding of mental illness. Most importantly, I hope that I have honored those who have been touched by suicide.

Do you see the piece growing after this? Is it standalone or do you see it becoming a larger work?

Nothing is ever perfect. I will absolutely continue to make edits and do rewrites post-production. I think that it could find a nice place in a larger work, but I have no concrete plans right now.

There’s not a lot of one woman shows around here— why do you like the form? Why do you think this is best as a one-woman piece rather than any other form?

I wanted to create a play that is completely honest. I think the one woman format is best for this. The character has no reason to alter the truth, she’s not trying to elicit any sort of response from anyone. I also think that the majority of the storytelling that we do is inside of our own heads and I intended this to be a sort of snapshot of that. Unadulterated female voices are always hard to come by and this felt like the perfect opportunity.

Thanks for reading! If you want to help make this production a reality, please consider donating or sharing her IndieGogo.

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