Welcome to the DGF Fellows Spotlight.
This series of interviews put the spotlight on individual DGF Fellows and invites you to take a behind-the-scenes look at our program.
The 2020-2021 class of fellows was asked a series of questions exploring where they’ve been, what they’re up to now, and what they hope for the future.
Please take your seats, unwrap your candies, and silence your cellphones as we put the spotlight on Mike Ross!
What was your first experience with theater?
Hmm. I know I saw a community theater production of Grease at some point in my Minnesotan childhood, but I wouldn’t call it seminal. My first time BEING in theater, though, was this thing in fourth grade called “Destination Imagination,” where you & your fellow elementary schoolers wrote & put together a short show based on a writing prompt. Then you built a set & lugged it out to one school gym or another to compete against other children. I may have been a little too pushy about writing the scripts, but it got us to state, so, I mean, who’s to say. What’s certain is that the first time an audience laughed at something I wrote, a long and vicious positive feedback loop was born. Also, I played a tiger. THAT’S seminal.
When did you decide to become a writer? Is there a writer, show, or piece of writing that was particularly influential on your path?
In first grade we were assigned to write a short story, and I wrote a whole book called “Space Trip” about me, my friends, and my dog on said space trip. I remember being absolutely sure that this was what I wanted to do forever, and while that never really wavered, certain artists were influential both in how much I loved their work and in how transparent they were about how they got to be working writers: Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Tig Notaro, Rachel Bloom, Adam Schlesinger, Ngozi Ukazu, and Menken/Ashman, to name a few.
How do you describe your work overall? What sets your work apart?
In terms of my voice, I don’t think I can write anything that doesn’t have a sense of humor, even or especially if I’m upset about something. I’ve heard you’re supposed to write what you would actually like to read or see, and what I like is entertainment that makes me think while still being, you know, entertaining, so I do my best to do that. In terms of content, I never get tired of taking big ur-characters we all know (Lewis & Clark, Adam & Eve, Odysseus & sirens, etc) and using them to explore my preoccupations/obsessions (kissing, worrying, singing Bruce Springsteen, etc).
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you’ve been developing as a Fellow?
Yes! LEWIS LOVES CLARK is a historical tragicomedy about exactly what it sounds like: Meriwether Lewis, a dreamy, depressed alcoholic, is desperately in love with his best friend and co-captain, William Clark, even as he begins to suspect Clark may not be such a great guy. It also explores other aspects of the famous Corps of Discovery that people today don’t necessarily know or think about. Really, it’s a show about the way we are pulled through life looking for answers to things we can’t know, like: does the Northwest Passage exist, or am I unknowingly complicit in a national tragedy, or does this boy like me back, and so on. The fellowship is helping me – and my fellow Fellow and brilliant composer Dylan MarcAurele – figure out how to balance tone in a piece that is as stuffed to the brim with horrible and/or hilarious events as real life tends to be. It is also helping us to just, you know, actually write the darn show. 10/10, would recommend the experience.
What do you find most rewarding about your work as a writer?
I could just say “making people laugh” and that would be true, but the second, even truer answer is “making people laugh because I wrote down something very specific to me, something that I almost thought maybe only I found funny or upsetting or interesting, and then by dint of live theater, finding out other people felt that way too.” Finishing a first draft of lyrics also feels pretty great.
Do you have any upcoming work you’d like to share?
My third book for young readers, Game Over, will be out sometime next year. In the meantime, I’m excited to keep working on Lewis Loves Clark with Dylan and the invaluable support of DGF!
Thank you, Mike, for contributing to the blog! You can stay up to date on Mike’s work by following @mcrossisnotapun on Twitter and by visiting mikerosswrites.com