Susan Soon He Stanton on Solstice Party! and Today Is My Birthday / by Declan Maloney Drummond

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First of all, how did you end up with 2 shows running off-Broadway in the same month?

That’s a good question! I feel very lucky and overwhelmed. These are the first NYC productions I’ve had since 2012, when my play TAKARAZUKA!!!  was at Clubbed Thumb Summerworks. So this is the first time anything like this has happened. Tyler Mercer and Chris Dieman commissioned me a little over a year ago. Unlike typical commissions, they were very clear the show was going to be produced at this time. It was extremely brave of them to know that I was going to be writing something so new they were going to program instantly. Today Is My Birthday was more of a surprise in terms of the production slot, but the play has been in development since 2014. I’ve been working the play at Sundance in 2014, with director Kip Fagan, and sound designer, Palmer Hefferan. Many of the actors have stuck with the play since then. Both plays are very different and I’m delighted to share them this fall. 

What are SOLSTICE PARTY! and Today Is My Birthday about?

Solstice Party! is inspired by an actual camping weekend I took with my friends. This play is about a celebration of the summer solstice at a farmhouse, deep in the woods. What begins as a celebration weekend turns far darker, an escapist-folk dream turned nightmare. The play is both deeply personal and theatrically extreme. I’m so excited about the production. There are live songs composed by Adrian Bridges, our sound designer, played with live instruments, and real trees, and projections on stage. Live Source is a design driven company, and it’s been thrilling to write a new play with design in mind.

Today Is My Birthday follows a young woman named Emily who flees New York City for her hometown in Hawaii after a traumatic breakup. She is isolated, unsure of her identity, and desperate for connection. Through an odd sequence of events she finds herself with a side gig calling into a shock-jock radio station, pretending to ask out the “office stud of the week.” She begins to pursue the other fake caller on a Sisyphean romantic quest, while desperately trying to manage her career aspirations and family complications. She flails and fails and grasps and misses, but keeps trying — eventually finding her wobbly way to a new stability and identity. This play also toggles between a mostly realistic world, but told through radio and phone calls, so no two characters are ever in the same place. It’s been wonderful to physicalize this world with our team.

How did you make the transition into writing for TV?

I’ve been doing theater and screenwriting simultaneously for years. I had my eye out for TV for awhile now, with a few close calls to join shows. I got staffed on Succession with my play, Today Is My Birthday. HBO has been really wonderful and a producer there, Christine Kim, thought I’d be a good fit for the style of Succession, which is a fascinating blend of drama, comedy, and political/financial events. It’s funny because as I’m answering this question, I have just come from the first rehearsal of Today Is My Birthday, I’m currently on set for the TV show, and I’m about go to tech for Solstice Party!. I think it feels good and exciting to be working in television, especially health insurance. I think remaining in theater remains something that continues to be a high priority but does require quite a bit of juggling. I love the intimacy and control of theater. In TV there are so many people involved in the whole process, that the end result, while potentially wonderful, isn’t so much yours.

You’ve been a member of groups and labs at places like Sundance, Page 73, Soho Rep and Women’s Project. How have they impacted your career?

So much. I think in ways that are quantifiable and then in ways I cannot imagine. When I got out of NYU, in college, I didn’t have the common sense to join any of these writing groups. I didn’t know or meet anyone. What I love about all of these groups is they are all different. Some groups, like Page 73’s Interstate 73, Primary Stages, and MaYi Playwrights Lab are all writers. It’s a safe room, a fellowship. SoHo Rep pairs together writers with directors, which is a very exciting conversation, to see how directors who aren’t necessarily attached to your work respond to your pages. Sundance you work with a team for weeks, with a director, dramaturge, actors, and in my case, a sound designer. Women’s Project Lab is particularly wonderful and unusual in that it brings together writers, directors, and producers. The Lark is so cool because they offer multiple programs, some with just writers, some with a mix of writers and directors, so it’s a bit of chose your own adventure.

I really love the fellowship of these groups and having a safe place to work on new plays. I also love the accountability. One of the reasons I’m able to write so many plays is that, while I’m not a fast writer by any means, I’m accountable in these groups to bring in 10 or more pages at a time. It’s great to see everyone trying to find their way through a new play. Sometimes it’s rough going and it’s so nice to have the fellowship of kindred spirits.