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Playwright/Director Forges Her Own Path in Theater World

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Elise Maurine Milner, left, founder of the entertainment company Hanging Cow Productions, with her stage manager Suzanne Lynn. They and the cast are preparing for a five-performance run of “Angels Among Us,” a production Milner co-wrote and directs, at Yorktown Stage Oct. 6-9.

Elise Maurine Milner’s career trajectory isn’t one that anybody would typically associate with a path to success as a playwright in the theater world.

But through hard work, gumption, and resourcefulness, Milner has been able to carve a solid niche in the cut-throat New York theater scene, having directed and produced 15 Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway shows in a little more than 15 years.

She is now bringing her first full-scale production to Westchester, which she once again calls home after escaping from Manhattan during the pandemic. Milner’s “Angels Among Us,” a show she has presented more often than any of her other works, is set for five performances at Yorktown Stage from Oct. 6-9.

The vignette-style show follows nine characters, some of whom are going through the worst day of their lives, and other characters who step in and try to help.

“When I got to New York I realized that the theater scene is huge here. (I said) I can do theater here,” said Milner, who lives in Cortlandt Manor with her husband. “I can go back to my roots here and I don’t have to wait for someone to cast me in a show like in L.A. in film or television. I could just literally build something from the ground up.”

What Milner built was Hanging Cow Productions, an entertainment company she established about 20 years ago where she writes, directs and produces all original shows. While she may not have had the big bucks or have been able to attract large investors for elaborate productions, Milner fuses her self-taught skills in marketing, graphics and web design along with theater training from high school and random college courses to have cobbled together a fascinating and fulfilling career.

Nearly all of Milner’s works are influenced by experiences in her life. The common thread running through her productions and her writing is spirituality.

“All of my shows have a spiritual undertone, all of my shows are about humanity, finding our higher selves, working toward becoming better people, and (the) people we put in our lives for a reason to help us for the better and inspire us,” Milner said. “You come to one of my shows, no matter what show it was, whether it’s a comedy or drama, and you’re going ‘Gee, it’s very thought-provoking stuff, but not offensive.’ It’s relatable, thought-provoking and it can be a little edgy at times.”

Milner’s own story is as fascinating as many of her productions. Born and raised in the tiny western town of Virginia City, Nev., she discovered the love of theater while in middle and high school, participating in school and local productions. The town’s secondary school, which housed grades 7-12, had just 80 students; her highs school graduating class numbered 15 or 16 kids.

Since the school was so small, the drama teacher made sure each theater participant was involved in everything that needed to be done to bring a production to the stage.

“If I didn’t have his teaching us from a young age (that) everyone participates in every aspect of the theater and that’s the way it is, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today,” Milner said. “I’m so grateful for that.”

But with her mother having gone through multiple divorces and not getting much support at home, Milner headed for San Francisco, waiting tables and taking a variety of college courses that could help her realize her dreams of a theater career, but eschewing a formal degree to avoid going into debt. She performed stand-up comedy and other odd jobs.

A scene from “Angels Among Us,” scheduled for five performances Oct. 6-9 at Yorktown Stage.

She went to Carson City, Nev. where Milner worked in community theater and snagged a job as a radio disc jockey despite having no experience or training. About nine months later, Milner landed in Los Angeles and worked as a production assistant at Universal Studios.

She then had the itch to try New York and discovering its vibrant but ultra-competitive theater scene. Milner hooked up with a small reparatory company doing original works from unknown playwrights in 50-seat theaters. The company folded about six months later, but Milner believed she could make a model work where that outfit had failed.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, everything these guys did, I’m going to take how they failed and make a company myself doing what they’re doing but make it a success,” Milner recalled.

That’s how Hanging Cow Productions was created, where her old high school training of doing all the jobs in the shop, helped her launch and maintain the company.

After coming to New York, Milner lived in West Point and Highland Falls, before moving to Ardsley and meeting her husband. They lived in Manhattan but came back to Westchester shortly after the pandemic struck, where theaters were shut down for the better part of two years. Today, they live in a cottage-style house in Cortlandt.

Milner said she probably receives about 20 requests a year from playwrights who send her scripts and ask her to produce their works. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the resources to produce them but she helps fledgling writers in another way. She created a workshop called Back Door to Broadway, where she teaches those aspiring to have a theater career how to do it without going down the traditional path.

“So I have been able to I have a dream of becoming a playwright/producer to I’m doing it now,” Milner said.

Milner is preparing for the five performances of “Angels Among Us” in Yorktown. It’s a daunting challenge to try and come close at filling the more than 500-seat auditorium for five shows.

“It’s a huge risk, it’s a giant theater, but I’m just going to do my best,” Milner said. “I’m one person and my husband and my little skeleton crew and my actors, and I’m just going to work as hard as I can.”

Performances of “Angels Among Us” are at 8 p.m. on Oct. 6, 7 and 8 along with 2 p.m. matinees on Oct. 8 and 9. Tickets are $30 each. For tickets and more information, visit  www.hangingcowproductions.com or www.yorktownstage.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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