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BWW Interview: Stan Zimmerman Talks YES, VIRGINIA, Starring Mindy Sterling and Arnetia Walker

Get the inside scoop on bringing this acclaimed dramedy to live in the digital medium.

BWW Interview: Stan Zimmerman Talks YES, VIRGINIA, Starring Mindy Sterling and Arnetia WalkerYES, VIRGINIA is a heartwarming and hilarious holiday comedy about two older women navigating the perils of aging in suburban Detroit. The acclaimed dramedy is crafted in the vein of Stan Zimmerman's writing for "The Golden Girls". To get the inside scoop about the upcoming digital production of YES, VIRGINIA, we chatted with Zimmerman about creating the play and working with Mindy Sterling and Arnetia Walker to bring this production to life.


What inspired YES, VIRGINIA?

A few years ago, I was dealing with my mom, who had early dementia, and we were concerned about her living alone. We were discussing options since she was adamant about leaving her condo in Santa Barbara. She suggested that Virginia, our long time housekeeper from when I was a kid, move in with her. I told her that was a good idea, but, unfortunately, Virginia had died years ago. As I was driving back to LA, my mind began to swirl. This would make an excellent play.

What was your writing process like as you crafted the comedy?

Upon my return home, I pitched the concept to Christian McLaughlin, who I've written a few plays with. He immediately sparked to the idea. We decided to meet in person and see if there was a full theater piece in it. I had been wanting to write a two hander and also a Christmas themed project.

BWW Interview: Stan Zimmerman Talks YES, VIRGINIA, Starring Mindy Sterling and Arnetia Walker
Stan Zimmerman.

How did your experiences writing for "The Golden Girls", or any of the other projects you wrote for on TV, help you create and develop this new play?

I loved writing for "The Golden Girls". Our scripts were very real, but also very funny. That tone seemed a perfect fit for these two characters, in this age bracket, and living situation.

Speaking of writing for "The Golden Girls", there are so many iconic moments in the series. Were any of them directly from your pen? If so, which was your favorite to create?

I was very lucky to have written for Season One of "The Golden Girls". It's always fun to work on a new show because you can really create the rhythm of the series. With that one in particular, Susan Harris wrote four amazing characters and cast four of the funniest women working in comedy at that time. At the time, I didn't know so many of the lines we wrote would become so memorable. Or memes.

Often, holiday fare - especially comedic holiday fare - seems to lack substance and depth. Yet, YES, VIRGINIA tackles issues women actually struggle with. Can you talk about how and why you infused your play with contemporary issues so it wasn't just holiday themed fluff?

I think with all of my work, I like to infuse them with a combination of pop culture, current issues, and a loving outlook on life. Even dealing with more serious subjects like circumcision with our original comedy play, KNIFE TO THE HEART, or suicide with my piece, RIGHT BEFORE I GO, or my LatinX production of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, I feel it's important to portray our world realistically. Which for me, is being able to laugh at life, even during the dark moments.

What has it been like working with Mindy Sterling and Arnetia Walker as they create their character for this production of YES, VIRGINIA?

I adore working with Mindy and Arnetia. They had instant chemistry and are so open to try anything. And coincidentally, they share the same birthday AND agent! I've known Mindy since she was in the first play I directed, the 30th anniversary production of GEMINI. Ever since then she has kind of been my muse. And, if I don't cast in her something, she will call me out on social media. I am especially proud that she received her first Emmy nomination for "Secs & Execs", a webseries I co-created, co-wrote, and directed.

Have either of these acclaimed actresses brought elements to the roles that you weren't expecting but really enjoy seeing?

When you're working with actors of such high caliber and years of experience, such as Mindy and Arnetia, they naturally bring all of that to your project. It's up to me as a director, and the co-writer, to be able to sense their specialness and bring that out. It also helped that Mindy and Arnetia had done this play live at The Complex Hollywood in December 2018. They naturally jumped right back into their roles, which saved a lot of time, and I was able to concentrate on the complications that arise when recording on Zoom.

We've all had to adjust to various digital mediums over the last 8 months or so, but that doesn't mean working in them is easy. What unexpected challenges have you encountered preparing this production of YES, VIRGINIA for audiences?

Since there have been so many play readings online during Covid, my producing partner, Stefani Von Huben, and I wanted to up the ante and provide little Christmas surprises throughout the virtual production. But, there was definitely a learning curve, figuring out this New Medium, and pushing the limits of it. We can't wait to share this unique experience with everyone.

Conversely, has anything been easier than you expected because of the digital medium?

Using the digital medium can be very frustrating for a perfectionist, such as myself. You're recording over the internet, so there are a lot of limitations. Like working in intimate theatre, you have to have a "go with it" attitude. But, I think audiences will receive this with the spirit that it was created. One of the upsides of working in the digital medium, during Covid, is that you can cast actors in various cities, literally around the world. An added bonus is that I am getting to work with multiple theatre companies across the United States that I never would've otherwise and helping them raise money to keep their theatrical institutions alive.

Once we can commune in a theater again, do you have any plans on bringing YES, VIRGINIA back to a stage with a live audience? If so, can you say where that may occur?

We were supposed to be doing this play for the holidays at the Judson Theatre Company in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Thank God, Morgan Sills, their Artistic Director, suggested we do this virtually and spearheaded bringing all these theatres together to present a fun holiday event. We'd love to bring a live production of YES, VIRGINIA to Off-Broadway for a limited run November 2021-January 2022. Before then, it's actually being licensed for the first time in a production that I will not be involved with. This June, Melon Patch Players will present their own version of the play. I hope to go down to Leesburg, Florida to see it. Since it's a one set/two character, full length one act play, I'm hoping many theatre companies across the United States and beyond will want to produce it. It can also be staged with social distancing blocking!

What do you hope audiences take with them from seeing YES, VIRGINIA?

I hope audiences will be able to laugh and maybe even get a little teary eyed by the beautiful performances of these two gifted actors and how they tell our story. But, I also want people to start the conversation with our parents, or ourselves, about the quality of living our later years and where and what that will look like. Most importantly, I want to put a smile on people's faces while they forget about the craziness of our world for an hour and 15 minutes.

YES, VIRGINA - the new holiday comedy by Stan Zimmerman ("The Golden Girls," "Gilmore Girls") and Christian McLaughlin ("Desperate Housewives," "Married...With Children") - will be presented as a streaming benefit for Judson Theatre Company and Laguna Playhouse on Thursday, December 17 at 7:00 PM Eastern. For VIP ticket holders on opening night, the performance will be immediately followed by a virtual talkback with the cast and creative team. YES, VIRGINIA will be available on demand until Sunday, December 20 at 7:00 PM. The play stars Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers, "The Goldbergs") and Arnetia Walker ("Nurses," DREAMGIRLS), and this presentation will be produced by Judson Theatre Company, Pop-Up Playhouse, and Stefani Von Huben. Stan Zimmerman serves as director. For tickets, which start at $20, please visit StellarTickets.com.


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From This Author David Clarke