Winter Miller Talks SPARE RIB Benefit and Play, Feminism, and Working With Gloria Steinem

How did SPARE RIB and this benefit come to be?

Spare Rib has been in the works for four or so years, it took a fair amount of research as well as a few residencies, including The Lark, Blue Mountain Center and the Civilians R&D Group. The benefit came about because after Gloria Steinem met Dr. Parker, she knew I was friendly with him and sent me an email that basically said, we have to honor him. I said yes we do. I've never thrown a celebration or benefit to honor someone so I figured I'd go to something familiar--using plays to galvanize. It's the best way I know to attract a crowd--get really phenomenal actors in a room and people show up.  

What is SPARE RIB about? How does it touch on the issue of abortion/reproductive rights?

You should probably come see for yourself. 

You are providing women who've had abortions with free tickets to the show. What do you hope to accomplish with this?

The complimentary tickets are indeed for people who've had abortions as well as those who have volunteered or worked in abortion clinics. For too long there's been a stigma and acts of violence around abortion and that must cease. We have a legal right to reproductive freedom. And I believe we have an obligation to protect and secure that right and to stop punishing people for their decisions over their own bodies. 

How did you become connected with Willie Parker? How has he influenced you/your work?

I read about Dr. Parker in an Esquire article last summer and bookmarked it--I felt an admiration and love for him instantly. I went to the opening screening of Dawn Porter's Trapped documentary and Dr. Parker, who's featured in the film was there for a Q&A with the filmmaker. I geeked out. One of the producers, a woman named Diane Max knew of Spare Rib and invited me to join them for celebratory drinks. As luck would have it, I was seated at Dr. Parker's elbow. We talked the whole night and exchanged emails. I'm just a big fan of who he is--he's got great politics, a great feminism, he quotes bell hooks and he's a really radiant man. 

Why are you/the event interested in specifically providing support to southern communities?

They need it. Here in NYC many of us are unfamiliar with the obstacles women in places like MI and AL and TX face--it's brutal--there are few clinics, mandatory wait periods and it's expensive and prohibitive. It's just to look out for those who need help the most. Also, these are the clinics where Dr. Parker works and the clients he serves, it was a logical way to pay tribute to him. 

What role will Gloria Steinem play in the event? How has she influenced you/your work?

Ms. Steinem will present the award to Dr. Parker. As an icon and a feminist, she's someone who embodies the fight for equal rights and the quest for justice. If she sent me an email that said, we have to dig a hole to the Pacific with a plastic fork to honor Dr. Parker, I would have pursued that--there's certain people in my life when they say jump, I say, ok, now? 

As an influence, Gloria Steinem has been a generous mentor to me and to hundreds of others. Her IQ and her EQ are among the best. She has integrity, humor, heart and a lifelong commitment to transforming women's lives. She doesn't name drop; she connects. She writes beautiful books, I can only begin to imagine what's archived in her memory. She's the real deal, though and through. I feel a tremendous love for her, and a deep respect for the way she moves through the world. She's a unifier, a maven, an inspiration and I'm thrilled she signed on to this nutty plan. Any minute now she's going to realize how green I am at producing an event, but it's too late, her name is on the invitation. One last thing--seeing Gloria Steinem and Dr. Willie Parker in conversation is like what I imagine two planets orbiting each other would be like--chemistry, charisma, radiance and a mutual genuine respect. I think this is a truly special event with these two--and that's before we add in the incredible actors who will be reading from Spare Rib--Elizabeth Marvel, Marin Ireland, Mamie Gummer, Vella Lovell and more I can't announce yet, plus cabaret superstar Lady Rizo. I don't know much about event planning, but thanks to my co-producer Rachel Karpf Reidy and director Adrienne Campbell and with some generous fiscal sponsorship from New Georges and the Society of Ethical Culture, this event is going to be extraordinary. I feel it, and it makes all the sleepless nights and hours of playwriting worth it, because this is the power of theater--to open us up and to create the potential to connect. I hope we raise a lot of money for these incredible providers and people open up about their personal stories. The personal is political, and of course, the political is personal.