Twenty-three plays, several Emmy nominations, People’s Choice Awards, and NAACP Image Awards under their belt...Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore -- two playwrights, producers, and actors from my old stomping ground of Monmouth County, New Jersey -- are, by New York Times standards (pretty high if you ask me), “the masters of modern farce.” With 23 plays, several Emmy nominations, People’s Choice Awards, and NAACP Image Awards under their belt, it’s hard to disagree. Van Zandt and Milmore recently sat down with me to talk about how they got started, their new “broadband comedy” You’ve Got Hate Mail, and where they’re off to next.
Thomas Sullivan: Did you get your start in New Jersey?
Billy Van Zandt: Yes, we actually both started working in theater in Monmouth County.
Jane Milmore: We met at a high school acting competition.
BVZ: After high school, we developed some plays there, and we eventually began to work in New York.
TS: What is this show about?
BVZ: It’s about a divorce told through emails. I play the husband who has sent an email to his mistress that’s accidentally read by his wife. As you can imagine, it gets pretty heated from there.
TS: How do you think this technology has impacted relationships?
JM: I went through a horrible divorce in a similar manner to how the emails progress in the play. A lot of the emails are the actual ones, but the names were changed. Technology can really destroy relationships.
BVZ: Anyone watching the show can see themselves in some of these emails, whether it’s a situation like this one or a “send all” email accident in the office. I think it shows how this can affect people, not just on a relationship level.
TS: Have you done any dramatic work before? And why do you enjoy doing satire so much?
JM: We like to make people laugh. It’s the greatest thing in the world!
BVZ: I did a sort of serious one-woman show called The Property Known As Garland.
JM: It’s not like we don’t enjoy serious works -- we really just like doing comedy!
TS: Both of you kind of do it all: act, write, and produce. Which role is your favorite?
JM: Whatever one I’m not doing is the one I wish I was doing. [Laughs] BVZ: I’d rather be performing. I like doing writing for theatre and television, but it’s hard to separate the two.
TS: Do you view the technology in your show as being good or bad? And how do you feel about the lack of privacy this causes?
JM: The technology is good if it gets laughs, bad if it does not. I think there is way too much private information out there. Some things really are no one’s business.
TS: How is it being part of almost every single aspect of your production (writing, acting, etc.)?
JM: It's great and hard at the same time. You really have to focus on the job at hand. You learn, when you are acting, just act don't worry about rewriting, tech problems, or how many people are in the house...but it is hard.
TS: How do you think your acting careers have influenced your writing careers (and vice-versa)?
JM: I think they are extremely beneficial to each other. I won't write something I wouldn't say. We always do a reading of every part in the script. The acting infuses the writing and vice-versa.
TS: In writing a new work, how do you collaborate together? Do you do anything specific?
JM: Every play and script is different. Sometimes we use an outline, sometimes we just start writing and see where it leads. We also will write scenes separately and trade off, and other times we write them together. Making each other laugh is another way we collaborate.
TS: What are your main influences?
JM: Woody Allen!
You’ve Got Hate Mail is playing at The Triad Theater in Manhattan on the following dates: 10/7/10, 10/21/10, 11/16/10, 11/19/10, 12/2/10, 12/16/10, and 12/30/10.