Shira Milikowsky on herding cats

Shira Milikowsky Interview

Mr. Oatmeal is a play about a queer couple’s 20-year-long relationship that is being strained by their 20-year-old cat, Mr. Oatmeal. Which will die first?  Come see this purrfect featured play at the 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival, NYC’s most inclusive celebration of the LGBTQ arts! 

We had a chance to have a chit chat with the director, Shira Milikowsky

When Shira Milikowsky is not directing plays about cats, she is running her ultra-awesome company, The Neon Coven.  They put on outrageously fun immersive shows that are explosions of sound, color and energy melding every genre under the sun.  Think Rocky Horror, Madonna, Hair and 5 other over the top acts and you’ve got The Neon Coven.  Ms. Milikowsky tells us how she arrived at directing Mr. Oatmeal.  “Since 2017 I have mostly worked with my company, The Neon Coven. (@TheNeonCoven) We make immersive nightlife musicals, so MR. OATMEAL is a bit of a genre switch for me! But I’m so excited to be back in the room with Matt’s writing and this incredible team. Matt and I worked together in college and never since then, so it’s a thrill to be reunited.”

                Ms. Milikowsky was drawn to this project because of a personal connection with the playwright and his work.  “Well first I got an email from Matt telling me that he had written a new play, which was basically my dream come true, so I was excited from the get-go. Of course, as I dug into it, the ideas started spinning. Matt’s writing is such a delicious synthesis of relatable and surprising. You feel like you know these people, even if you’ve never known anyone quite like them. I like a play that sneaks up on you, that makes you feel comfortable and as if you know exactly what’s going on, just before it slyly, craftily pulls the rug out from under you. “

                MR OATMEAL is also an intricate portrait of a relationship. At the risk of being that woman who says “after everything we’ve all been through these past few years,” but OK, I’m going to say it: after everything we’ve all been through these past few years (!!) one thing that’s nearly universal is how we’ve had to take stock of our closest relationships. Whether you were unwillingly separated for long periods of time or, the opposite – smashed together in a seemingly endless quarantine – our relationships and our identities have gone under the microscope.  As we find ourselves crawling out the other side of that unthinkable experience, I think a play that asks honest questions about what an intimate, loving relationship truly is can be a really satisfying, cathartic theatrical story for the moment.  Plus, it’s incredibly funny’” 😊’ 

                 Ms. Milikowsky is a people person and that’s a huge part of her creative process.  “I’m an extrovert, so my process is all in the collaboration.  First with the designers and production team in pre-production, and later in the room with the actors. I literally need to be talking to be thinking. If I’m working by myself in my room (rare) I’ll talk out loud to the walls.” 

“So, I prepare like crazy, knowing that the whole purpose of the preparation is to walk into the room and throw it all away the minute someone else starts talking. My job is to bring in a matchbook and light the fire, and after that, it’s about tending, feeding, shaping. My favorite thing is to have the playwright in the room because I can ask them 100 questions and for 45 of them, they’ll say, “Oh, I guess the answer is this”, and for 45 of them, they’ll say “oh I don’t really have an answer to that, you choose” and for the last ten, there will be no answer possible, but each one will spawn a whole other line of questioning. It’s a very live, jumpy process. Then, at a certain moment, the clock starts to run out, and we all can sense that, and a picture starts to form.”

                Directing a show about a cat lends itself to being curious about Ms. Milikowsky’s relationship to cats.  Cats happen to think that Ms. Milikowsky is the cat’s meow!  “When I was 5, I knew a cat named Sea Legs, and he played a trick on me. I won’t go into it here, but I was furious. I swore off cats for the rest of my life. And everywhere I went, cats loved me. Like, LOVED ME. I had to fight them off. Then, in 2020, (oh boy, here she goes talking about covid again…) I found myself in a quarantine house with my parents, my sister, her partner, and his 15-year-old cat, Roxy. And we all just fell in love with Roxy. I truly think she saved us. Roxy would walk in circles around the house, and every time she went by my dad’s desk, he would say, out loud, “Hi Cat.” Like every 20 seconds or so, “Hi Cat.” And gradually, that horrible year went by.”

                “So, I guess you could say Roxy won me over to the side of the cats. I would dedicate this production to her, except this play is a tiny bit rough on cats, so I’ll just give her a shout out. Hey Girl!

Ms. Milikowsky has some PURRfectly wonderful projects coming up! The juxtaposition of Oscar Wilde and reality television is entertainment gold!  “I will be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August directing OSCAR at The Crown with The Neon Coven. OSCAR is an immersive nightlife musical about Oscar Wilde and reality television. We ran at Bushwick’s 3 Dollar Bill for most of 2019, and I’m just so beyond thrilled that the show will have its next incarnation across the pond.”

Put down that ball of yarn and see THIS yarn about a compelling cat and her journey with the people who care for her.

Mr. Oatmeal

Wednesday 4/26 6:30p, Thursday 4/27 9:00p, Sunday 4/30 3:15p

The Wild Project, 195 E 3rd St, New York City for tickets

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