Winter Miller is no stranger to writing about the experiences of journalists. In the early 2000s, while working as a research assistant for Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, a trip to Sudan informed her acclaimed drama In Darfur. Over the four years she worked for Kristoff, Miller was reminded of the fate of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, whose brutal death changed the rules for Western journalists.
In 2019, journalists and the integrity of journalism are no less under threat. The U.S. is now ranked amongst the five most dangerous countries for journalists in the world; meanwhile, news and the distribution of information is warped and censored on a daily basis. Major newspapers continue to lose vital staff due to budget cuts, while overseas, the recent murder of Jamal Khashoggi is a sobering reminder of the dangers journalists face worldwide.
In 2019, Miller’s newest play, No One Is Forgotten—the story of an aid worker and a journalist who are held in captivity—feels chillingly current. And yet the two-hander, despite its small cast, minimal set, and numerous development opportunities across the country, remained unproduced.
“What is it that stands between this play and it being seen? I couldn’t figure that out," explains Miller. "I was being patient, waiting for the yes to come, but then…I just thought: ‘The time is now. I’m not waiting for someone to say yes.”
This summer, No One Is Forgotten receives its world premiere at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater as part of the theatre's curated rental series, with support from New Georges. Written and directed by Miller, the production is possible thanks to a budget that was raised entirely by the playwright—tens of thousands of dollars collected from private donors and a Kickstarter campaign that drew in over 300 supporters.
“Of course it’s a big risk to be producing and directing a play one has written. It wouldn’t be my first choice as to how things would go," says the playwright, "but it was a necessary choice and my instincts have been to follow it.”
Above, see a breakdown of Miller's budget. Below, Miller explains how she went about self-producing her world premiere Off-Broadway.
Where did she start: Before raising any money, Miller scheduled phone calls and meetings with over a dozen producers. Approaching the process like a journalist, she interviewed each of them about budget sizes, salaries, expectations, challenges, contingency plans, insurance options, and everything else under the sun.
“The first phone call was intimidating, because of how little I knew and the language that I didn’t know,” says the playwright. “But as I got more familiar with it, it became easier to ask the questions that I needed to ask.”
Putting together her team: After raising her budget, Miller's first step was to find the right co-producer. She put together a list of producers who had at least two recommendations from someone that she trusted, eventually landing upon Amanda Cooper. Miller later used this recommendations model to staff the entire project, from the cast to her technical director.
Being in the lead producer seat has allowed Miller to make hiring choices that reflect her values. She set an intention to hire 90 percent or more women, people of color, trans, or queer artists, which she has achieved.
“That makes me tremendously happy. It feels really good to give jobs to people I want to see having jobs," says the playwright. “If you have the intention and you keep persisting, with patience, you [will] find your people.”
Allocating funds: Being lead producer on her own play has put Miller in a position to also divide her budget appropriately. “The budget is a place where we lived our values," says Miller. "We spent half of the budget on humans, not things. That, to me, is deeply important."
From the outset, she ensured that there would be enough funds to pay every one above the minimum wage in New York. Take a detailed look at the budget in the pie chart above.
No One Is Forgotten will feature Renata Friedman and Sarah Nina Hayon. Performances will run July 8-27 at Rattlestick.