New York native Dani Stoller is a perfect combination of heart, hustle and talent. The playwright, director and actress is still finding ways to display her creativity in the D.C. theater scene during Covid-19, including her show Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes, which Signature Theatre streamed in March and April, and Round House Theatre’s new web series Homebound, which launched on April 27. Amid the craziness of the pandemic, we caught up with Stoller and talked about her work, her dreams and some of her favorites via rapid-fire questions.
District Fray: Tell us about the work you’re doing with Round House and what that process looks like from home.
Dani Stoller: I’m writing for Round House and they awesomely commissioned 10 playwrights to each write an episode of Homebound, based on people’s lives during the pandemic. Actors film themselves and [Round House] edits it. It’s totally free but keeps the actors who lost work at Round House paid. That’s really f–king special and cool.
I feel like you have all this professional experience, and are still so young.
I was very lucky I have supportive parents – not everybody can say that. They were like, “If this is what you’re going to do, then f–k it.” That was key – having people foster my dream.
What do you love about working in D.C.?
I love this area specifically because you can do so much. I can assistant direct shows, I can work as a playwright, there’s so much room to play. There’s great f–king work and that’s been really exciting, that I can continuously work at these incredible theaters with incredible artists and also work on my own projects on the side.
How do you hope other theater professionals view your work?
I’d hope they view me as daring and vulnerable, and somebody who’s on their side. Especially the women. The shows I write are generally based on messy women. My hope is you leave judging yourself a little bit less, or maybe with a new idea of how you should view someone else. Honest, not overly saccharine.
Was there a recent point in your career when you felt like you’d made it and this is where you want to be?
I remember the first time I did a show at the Folger, I was working with Aaron Posner, who every artist knows as an incredible artist, writer and director. I was so floored, and that was a moment where I was like, “Wow I can do this [solely].” In terms of writing, it was when Joe Calarco, the head of SigWorks at Signature, took me under his wing and became an incredible mentor and friend. He said, “Hey, this play you’ve written, we want to do a workshop with it.” Holy shit, that’s the coolest thing that could ever happen. [Another moment] was [performing] at the Folger f–cking [Theatre]. My heart flipped into my butt.
How do you stay inspired to keep writing? How do you have to alter that during this crazy time?
Usually, when I’m in the zone, I will wake up in the middle of the night. I get up and write from 2 to 6 a.m. because my head will just be like, “Bdddahahapopbop.” Now that my schedule is lighter, I’m like, “Holy shit. Am I never going to work again? Is this how it’s going to be?” I set up a writing duo with my friend [on video calls], we just write, and if we need some help, we unmute ourselves and talk it through. Literally any way I can interact with people about art has been the most helpful. It reminds me that art is going to be the light at the end of the tunnel. The idea that something will come out of this and people will need stories and togetherness. Theater is important and working with all these incredible people forces me to get out of my own f–king way.
Are there local businesses you want to bring light to that you’re supporting right now?
Any theater. Once a week, Signature is doing Signature Strong, a livestream on Facebook where one of the artistic directors interviews really high-up D.C. artists about their work. People sing, they show clips from shows, people play music, there’s drinking games. It’s so fun and wonderful. If you’re not aware of the level of talent in this town, that’s another great way to see what you’re missing and what you can get involved in.
Walk us through some current and upcoming projects you’re excited about.
I’m currently writing my first adaptation called Crazy Bitch, and it’s based on Jane Eyre, which is one of my favorite books of all time. I started writing it in September, and I wrote the whole thing and was like, ‘There’s something wrong here.” I pulled the pin out, let it blow up and now I’m putting it back together. It’s so out of my comfort zone. I like to write shows that are in a house or two different spaces that are linear. Then I decided I’m gonna write something that’s totally not like what I do. I’m trying to step out into the unknown.
Coffee or tea? Coffee. Black coffee. Plays or musicals? That’s too hard. I love musicals because I don’t dance, seeing people dance is like “wow this is f–king bananas.” Hamlet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream? I would say Hamlet, maybe because I’ve done Midsummer a few times and I’d like to do Hamlet. What play will you never get sick of? Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill. It’s pretty f–king stellar and I’m too young [to be cast in it]. D.C. theater with the best vibe? Signature is sleek and trendy, and their shows are sexy and edgy. Even their classics are shiny and seductive. But if you want something that feels kind of like a warm, incredible hug – that’d be Olney [Theatre Center]. Favorite show of all time? Sweeney Todd, not the movie. What’s your favorite show you ever performed in? The Diary of Anne Frank at Olney [Theatre Center]. I played Anne’s sister Margo, I didn’t talk very much. But every person in that production was so f–king good. It was directed in such a seamless, beautiful, specific way. Best actor or actress? Allison Janney. If you were like, “Hey, Allison Janney has to take a dump and you’re going to watch,” I’d be like, “Hey, I’m in.” Do you spend more time in libraries or bookstores? Bookstore junkie. What’s your favorite TV show? Rick & Morty. Where do you go for inspiration? The [U.S. National] Arboretum. There are no people. Just hang out near a bush and write. What place do you miss going to? Starbucks. The idea of going and picking up a coffee and just saying hey to people, that sounds so good. It used to be mundane, waiting in line or picking up the wrong coffee order. Now I would love that weird start to my day. Who inspires you the most? My mom. Beer, wine or cocktails? If it tastes like candy, then I’ll drink it. What’s your biggest goal for 2020? To make sure that Trump is out of the White House. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Having my work produced and creating new work, I’m super blessed. [I want to be doing] everything I’m doing, just more of it. Is there anyone you aspire to be like? Leslye Headland. She wrote this awesome play [turned movie] called Bachelorette, and now she writes [for Netflix series] Russian Doll. She is a great writer who writes this nasty, dirty, funky stuff. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? “Your energy introduces you before you do.” Someone told me that and I wrote it down.