This week Playbill catches up with Bonnie Milligan, who recently starred in the Atlantic Theater Company staging of the new musical Kimberly Akimbo and will transfer with the production to Broadway in the fall. The actor made her Broadway debut in Head Over Heels, earning a Theatre World Award and nominations for Drama League and the Outer Critics Circle Awards. Milligan also played Pat in the first national tour of Kinky Boots, and her Off-Broadway credits include Promenade; God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; Gigantic; and Jasper in Deadland. She has recurring roles as Katherine Witherbottom on HBO Max's Search Party and Bitsy on Showtime's Escape at Dannemora and has also been seen on Chicago Fire and Happy.
Milligan is currently starring in the world premiere of Other World, a new musical from [title of show]'s Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen at Delaware Theatre Company through March 20. Adrienne Campbell-Holt directs the new work, which features a book by Bell and music and lyrics by Bowen and Ann McNamee and co-stars Jamen Nanthakumar.
What is your typical day like now?
I wake up and have breakfast while reviewing my script and notes. Then I take a daily COVID test and head to the theatre. We’ve been in previews, so most days have daily rehearsal before our evening show. On dinner break, I head back to the hotel to cook some dinner and maybe catch up on a little Netflix, before heading back to the theatre for showtime! After the show, I head straight home and unwind with a little TV-watching and perhaps a bubble bath.
Can you describe how it felt to be back in a rehearsal room the first day you and the company assembled?
Being back in person was truly surreal. I had to Zoom in to rehearsal for our first two weeks of Other World because of an overlap with Kimberly Akimbo performances at the Atlantic Theater. With the omicron surge, we were all trying to be the safest we could possibly be and not mix pods. When I came to rehearsal in person, it was so surreal to be working on a such a large new musical with this fabulous cast and turntables and puppets! I first began my journey with Other World six years ago in 2016, and I’ve been involved with so many readings and workshops and labs that to finally get to work on a full production was incredibly moving. I was so excited to meet my new cast members and to begin the journey of building our own dynamics and bonds. It’s a very special group of artists bringing this story to the Delaware Theatre Company.
Tell me a little about the role you're playing in Other World.
Lorraine is the non-gamer in our story. Her father, Will Houston, was co-creator of a video game called Other World, which we find ourselves sucked into in the show. Unfortunately for Lorraine, she has very complicated feelings about her dad and his game, which he spent much of her childhood focused on and very little time with her. She’s funny, dry, and strong—a total survivor and proactive force in trying to escape the game before it’s too late.
Are there any parts of your role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
So much of life became virtual during the last two years. We found ways to connect with each other in our isolation, and I think we learned about the power of that connection, even through computer screens. Our gamers begin the show with these virtual connections and find the joy and the power in being in person and connecting other ways. As far as my personal connection with Lorraine’s journey that might feel relevant, it is her journey in choosing forgiveness and love. So many deep hurts and past pains can cause us to miss out on the blessings around us. Realizing that we can learn from each other, and respecting someone from a different experience and point of view, can be incredibly powerful.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to live theatre?
I understand things feel scary, but what’s been absolutely amazing about the Delaware Theatre Company is that they have taken every precaution to create a safe space to create art and to enjoy it. We painstakingly make sure that the space is a safe one for all who enter. And theatre is so healing that I think it will help your heart in these troubling times.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
I hope we can come back after the shutdown with a greater focus on uplifting voices in all areas of theatre. We need people represented on both sides of the table. Change from within and throughout. Writers, directors, designers, producers, cast, and crew. Great art can come from hearing many stories and viewpoints, and we’ve had a long history of one kind of voice making all the decisions. I hope audiences can understand how much better the art would be if we heard from more people, and saw more humans onstage of varying identities and sizes. Let’s make the stage look and sound more like the world.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
Find ways to connect where you can. I’ve found that speaking my truth and admitting when I’m struggling has shown me true beauty and kindness in those friends around me. Connection helps us feel less alone and overwhelmed.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn't already know?
I learned that I’m a lot stronger than I realized. It was an incredibly difficult two years filled with loss and anxiety and fear. I stepped into roles I haven’t had to before and made it through.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
With everything that has been happening in Florida and Texas and across the states in regards to the rights of LGBT+ youth, I would encourage people to donate to the ACLU, an organization actively fighting these inequities and attacks on the vulnerable.