Interview by Suzanne Ordas Curry
Risa Mickenberg is the writer of EGG The Film, now showing in theaters around the country and on demand almost everywhere. It's the story of two couples, played by Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) and David Alan Basche (The Exes, Equity) and Alysia Reiner (OITNB) and Gbenga Akinnagbe (The Deuce) and their quests towards parenthood. But wait, there's also a third female, played by the lovely Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect). You'll have to see the movie to see how a third female figures into the mix but needless to say this movie attemps to shatter some pre-conceived and traditional notions about motherhood and parenthood as we continue in this new millenium. In this interview Risa will share how EGG was fertilized and hatched. And we'll also learn a little bit more about her, including how she's also the lead vocalist for a popular East Coast band Jesus H Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocolypse.
Risa Mickenberg: After always assuming I’d have children, when confronted with the actual opportunity, I found myself unable to decide what I wanted to do. My close friendships with women and men made me uncomfortable with the roles women had to take on and uncomfortable with the difference between what men did and what they told me, in private, about how they felt. EGG became a way for me to externalize my internal debate about having children or not and the role of truth in motherhood, in fatherhood, in marriage, in a funny, dark way.
When did Alysia and David contact you?
Risa Mickenberg:I first met Alysia & David when they did a reading for EGG as a play more than ten years ago. We’d all been passionate about bringing this piece to audiences for such a long time. EGG has had near production many times with talented people - so when we ran into each other again, on a ferry to Kismet, just before the 2016 presidential election and they’d made EQUITY, it seemed like the time to make it had come.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for women these days when thinking about starting a family?
Risa Mickenberg: I think the biggest challenge for anyone is to examine their reasons for having children, to choose a co-parent who’s equally passionate about how and why you’re doing it, and to figure out how your life will change in order to be the parent and the person you want to be and to structure your life and relationship to raise your child to become the person they want to be.
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Do you think that there needs to be changes in legislation to keep up with what is going on today, such as with different forms of child-bearing and also maternity leave/care of children in the work world?
Risa Mickenberg: This is such a great question. I believe that single individuals who don’t have children are unfairly taxed in so many different ways. Look at the book Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After by Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. It gives great support to this topic. We should all participate in a culture that cares for children as well as infirm people, differently abled people, older people, everyone who needs help, but laws now are geared to encourage having children and being married, while being single and not having children is one of the most ecologically and socially responsible decisions we can make for society and it should be represented in legislation and taxation as such.
Paid parental leave for both sexes is crucial, and so there should be paid leave granted to care for a friend, a family member. I don’t necessarily believe that this is the role of business; but that it should be a part of our national culture. In Sweden, being a companion for older people is a part time job that many people have. We need a society that values caring for each other and not just in a biological family structure.
Were you happy with the casting, chemistry between actors, locations and delivery of the words you created in this film? In other words is it close to what you had in your mind when you were writing it?
I did have a lot of input in the envisioning of the film. I did a treatment with the producers, gave direction about set design and my wishful thinking for casting and directors, and I was able to involve a number of the artists whose work was used in the film, including the wildly brilliant Clarina Bezzola. Sally Levi who designed and built the set made something that was exactly what I’d imagined and more. What I’d imagined was so in synch with what Marianna did, it was eerie. They stuck to the script pretty much word for word which is so flattering because Marianna is also a writer and a great writer. I admired, so much, her generosity and respect of the writing. It’s a rare quality and I feel so lucky about that.
There were so many lucky things that had happened and the producers and crew were so passionate and resourceful… The location, in an empty bank, was about to become a virtual reality lab and workshop. They were able to build it out and use upstairs offices for the entirety of the shoot. The crew was 70% female- female heads of every department – and the energy and calm on set was so loving, hard-working, focused and valued everyone there. It was deeply moving to see what they did.
What do you hope that this movie will accomplish?
Risa Mickenberg:I hope it will give people who are having a difficult time deciding whether to have children, or not, some representation for their feelings and will bring some honesty to the decision-making process. I feel like even though choice is still legal in this country, choosing to not have a child is still not a widely explored topic, and choosing to not have children needs to be a decision that anyone can embrace and feel whole doing so.
You are a writer, a writer in many forms, including music. How young were you when you knew writing was your passion?
Risa Mickenberg: I always wrote and I also always wanted to create things. I think every child is like this but we just stop ourselves from doing it. As a child, I admired the achievements of children like Mozart and Nadia Comaneci. When I was younger, I tried to create the ideal political system. I rewrote the school curriculum at 10, and I tried to invent an ideal, inclusive religion. I started an art school in my garage. I had my first published piece in the newspaper in second grade. I wrote my first novel when I was eleven. Every family vacation with family friends included a rigorous rehearsal schedule for a show at the end of the week. In many ways, I am exactly the same person I was when I was seven.
What books inspired you as a child?
Risa Mickenberg: Little Women, MAD Magazine, Mad Libs, the Boy Scout Handbook, Do A ZOOM Do, Free To Be You And Me, Cricket Magazine, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Little House on the Prairie Book series, the World Atlas, the Journal of the American Medical Association.
What books have you read multiple times?
Against Love by Laura Kipnis
Caryl Churchill’s plays
Dorothy Parker’s short stories
Fran Leibowitz essays
Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
How Should A Person Be by Sheila Heti
All We Know by Lisa Cohen
Are Prisons Obsolete By Angela Davis
Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
A Marriage Agreement and other Essays by Alix Kates Shulman
Colors Insulting to Nature by Cintra Wilson
What are some of your favorite films and why?
An Unmarried Woman – Terrifying depiction of women’s insecurities – and excellent representation of the downtown art world in the 70s.
Rosemary’s Baby – A goulish representation of how women’s bodies get taken over by others when they’re pregnant. Great book, great film.
Little Murders – Elliot Gould in the absurdist role of the photographer who can’t fail and can’t let himself be loved.
Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf – Because the dark secret is that they love each other.
Harold and Maude – Funny and sad – and the most life affirming film I know.
Small Change – The beauty of childhood.
|At the wrap party for #EGGthe film|
If you had nothing to do for one day, where would you be and what would you do?
Risa Mickenberg: I’d be on a mountaintop, alone and feeling connected to everything.
What are some of the projects you are most proud of?
Risa Mickenberg: This project, of course.
My book Taxi Driver Wisdom – it came out almost exactly as I’d envisioned it and no one horned in on it and tried to ruin it.
The two albums by my band Jesus H Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse – and the band itself. The albums were labors of such absurdity and love and the band is made up of such talented, good people.
All of the new work I’m doing; the new baby is always the favorite.
My relationships with and to the people and things I love.
And I’m proud of saying no to the projects I said no to, enabling me to do the hard work of making my own work.
What are some of your newest or planned projects?
A feature film about the circularity of male/female relations. a feature film about the circularity of male/female relationships and a black comedy set in the world of fast fashion.
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