Interview: Theatre Life with Dani Stoller

The actress/playwright on writing for young performers and more.

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Dani Stoller

Today's subject Dani Stoller is currently living her theatre life as the playwright for Girlhood at Round House Theatre. The production is Round House's 21st Annual Sarah Metzger Memorial Play and as always, is performed by Round House's Teen Performance Company. The show performs February 17th through 19th.

Dani's play The Voices on Blackwell Island was recently performed at Signature Theatre as part of Signature in The Schools. As you will read, Dani finds writing for teens and young performers very rewarding.

Other playwrighting credits include The Joy That Carries You (co-writer with Awa Sal Secka and performer) at Olney Theatre Center and Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes at Signature Theatre.

As a performer Dani's work in area theatres has showcased her versatility. Select credits include The Diary of Anne Frank, The Crucible, and The Humans (streaming) at Olney Theatre Center, Bat Boy at 1st Stage, As You Like It and District Merchants at Folger Theatre and most recently a tour de force performance in Which Way to The Stage at Signature Theatre and My Body, No Choice at Arena Stage

Dani has five nominations in this year's Helen Hayes Awards.

Here is a young lady with immense talents that can be seen on both sides of the footlights. A show with Dani Stoller in the cast is sure to be a good theatrical experience. A script written by Dani Stoller promises the same.

Please consider seeing Girlhood at Round House Theatre and supporting the next generation of theatrical artists.

Dani Stoller is living her theatre life to the fullest and the DC theatre community reaps the rewards. We are incredibly lucky wouldn't you say?

At what age did you have an idea that you wanted to work in the profession of theatre?

Oh gosh...birth? I don't think that's even facetious; I think it truly has been since I got here. Here being, like, the world, I mean.

Did you go to school for theatre?

I did! I received my BFA from Ithaca College.

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An early career picture of Dani Stoller.
Creative Cauldron's 2011 production of Nevermore.
Photo by Christopher Mueller.

What was your first professional performing job?

Oh gosh...I...don't remember. Isn't that terrible? It was a loooooong time ago, that's for sure.

You are also an accomplished playwright. Was it always the intention to write for the theatre as well as perform in it?

I've always loved to write. As a kid I had, you know, what seemed like a million journals and notebooks that I was always writing stories and plays and poetry in. My mother said, "whatever you do, never stop writing," and so...I never did. I was focused on acting mainly for quite some time and then a friend suggested we do a reading of my play Accepts with Pleasure...and the rest was history.

Your play The Voices on Blackwell Island was just performed at Signature Theatre as part of their Signature in the Schools program and coming up at Round House Theatre with their teen performance company you have your next play called Girlhood. Do you find it harder to write for teen performers over adults?

I love writing for young performers! I've taught teenagers for a long time, I've run a theater intensive at Olney Theatre Center for several years, and young artists are just an awesome bunch. They are so creative and curious and intelligent, and they feel things really deeply. I often think of writing for teenagers exactly like writing for adults, but you just turn the intensity up to eleven. Everything seems to feel like life or death, which is great because it raises the stakes and that is a recipe for awesome theater.

Can you please tell us where the idea for Girlhood came from and a little something about the play in general?

Girlhood came from seeing various series of photos from several incredible artists of teenage girls across America and the world. There was something so raw and ferocious and, yet, vulnerable in them and I just...I knew there were stories in there. The photos along with several documentaries, books, and articles of research about teenagers (such as Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein) helped to round out the topics I wanted to cover and the stories I was excited to explore.

The play takes place under an overpass in Anywhere, Middle America. It's a series of vignettes of teenage girls finding their way through adolescence. The bizarre time when you straddle the line between childhood and adulthood, and how that affects your sense of self, your desires, and your relationships with others and the world around you.

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Dani Stoller in Signature Theatre's 2022 production of
Which Way to The Stage.
Photo by Clancey Yovanovich.

You recently completed a tour de force and insanely fantastic performance in Signature Theatre's production of Which Way to The Stage. Your work in that show included a killer rendition of "Rose's Turn" from Gypsy. The performance schedule for that show included a five-show weekend. What did you do the rest of the week to make sure you had any energy left for Sunday evening's performance?

Coffee. And little cat naps under my dressing station. I also just loved doing that show so much that I truly could only feel joy when performing it. My heart was going a mile a minute and I just felt over the moon every time I heard the start of the song.

Working with young performers both at Signature Theatre and Round House Theatre must be very inspiring for you yourself as an artist. What advice can you give to someone just starting out as a performer and a playwright?

Just. Keep. Going. As a performer, that means auditioning and auditioning and auditioning, because sometimes you won't get cast, but that shouldn't deter you! If this is what you really want to do, then you gotta keep at it. For the playwrights that means just. Start. So often people tell me that they want to write a play, that they have an idea, but they don't know what to do. And I always say the same thing: just. Start. Writing is throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. The true formation of a play comes after the first draft is written. Editing is really writing. The first draft is a big rock that you see potential in, the editing process is when you chip away to find the sculpture, the true story, the art underneath. But you'll never get to that until you first get the rock.

What does 2023 hold in store for you both performance and writing wise?

OoooooOOOooooo that's quite a question! There are some things in the works...unfortunately, because seasons are not announced and contracts are not signed, yet, I cannot tell you what's going on at this exact moment, but I can say that I am excited for this year!

Special Thanks to Round House Theatre's Public Relations Manager Alexandria Moreland for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.


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