Editor’s Note: Today we interview the playwright and performer Michelle Drozdick, who is a self-described “comedian, improviser, performer, and cat lover moonlighting as a human being.” She is best known for her solo shows Message in a Bottle and The Gimmick and You. She’s performed at countless theaters across NYC, is on too many improv teams to keep track of, and would love for you to follow her on Twitter at @drozphallic. Message in a Bottle will have a three-run show at QED Theater in Astoria, Queens, from 8/18 to 8/20, all at 7pm. In anticipation of these performances, we talked to Drozdick about the mysteries of talking penguins, personifying objects, and what it’s like to love a bottle of vodka.
Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer and performer. When they ask you what your play is about, how do you answer?
First I’d chat with the penguin, because how often do you meet a talking penguin? I’d love to know how it came to talk, and if it’s the only one of its kind or if there’s more. If it’s the only one of its kind, is it lonely? Does it have trouble interacting with other penguins? If there are more, what kind of society do they have? Why is it hanging out with nuns? Is it because they’re both black and white, or is the penguin religious? Are there Catholic penguins? What is their view of the afterlife?
Once I got past the penguin thing, and apologized to the nuns for overlooking them, I’d tell them Message in a Bottle is a dark comedy/drama about alcoholism, portrayed as a romantic relationship between a woman and a self-aware bottle of vodka with googly eyes, plastic forks for arms, and a necktie. I’d warn the nuns that it can get a little adult at times, but nothing stronger than a PG-13 rating, tell them the show covers the first date all the way to what comes after the “end,” then offer them all comped tickets.
Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?
I love exploring the personification of objects in art, especially over time. It’s really interesting to see how we portray inanimate things that don’t actually have thoughts or personalities based on attributes of our own culture and society. I recently saw a great engraving by John Warner Barber from the 1820s called “King Alcohol, and his Prime Minister,” and there are lots of wonderful cartoons from the Prohibition-era (and the time leading up to it) that portray alcohol as an actual person wreaking havoc.
My show is a definitely inspired by this sort of art, and I spent a lot of time reading up on these older portrayals of alcohol, while trying to adapt it to a modern-day, personal story.
What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?
It all started as just a straightforward one-woman show about my struggle with alcoholism, but I very quickly realized I didn’t want to write and perform something along the lines of “And then this happened. And then this happened. And then I stopped drinking. The end.”
My work has always had a surreal twist to it, so it is probably inevitable that I ended up personifying the bottle of vodka itself!
How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?
I definitely wanted to find a way to make what could be a very self-indulgent show more interesting to an outside viewer. By personifying alcohol as an actual sentient, self-aware being, it allows it to be a character itself. It’s one thing to talk about the effect alcohol had on me — it’s another to see it happen through the lens of a relationship between two people. By making alcohol its own character, it really allows for a level of “show, don’t tell” that would be much harder otherwise.
As I worked to personify my own relationship with alcohol, I also included attributes I found in other works and pieces from a wide array of works over the years. There’s definitely a level of homage to those Prohibition-era works and cartoons, while also attempting to be “real” and fit a more modern-day narrative.
What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs function in your writing and performing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?
It’s been really interesting (and cathartic!) to explore what alcohol would be like if it were alive and in a relationship with an alcoholic. I also love the random bits of trivia I’ve picked up while doing research (for example, the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was originally that of a drinking song!), and it’s definitely pushed me to learn more about the history of alcohol and other drugs.
For future projects, I definitely want to continue seeing where personifying objects leads me. I’m also interested in diving deeper into the historical world of alcohol and drugs, and potentially creating something new there! I’d love at some point to create something that looks at the way different types of alcohol and drugs would have functioned through the years if they were people, particularly in their various heydays.
BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that Message in a Bottle gets made into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?
The Santo & Johnny cover of “Love is Blue,” definitely. It’s one of my favorite songs and is already the ‘end’ song for the show! It’s the perfect mixture of wistfulness, melancholy, and optimism.