Lizzie Milanovich is an actress, playwright, and artist, and she’s on a mission to bring theater to everyone. Even with her impressive resume, she admits, she’s really bad at changing her hats.
The recent Emerson performing arts alum, ‘14, was awarded a spot on the Improper Bostonian’s 25 under 25 list. Milanovich said that although she was honored to be recognized for her work, she was borderline embarrassed by this achievement. Ranked among professional athletes and successful scientists, she felt out of place.
It’s a large accomplishment for Milanovich, who grew up in Dickinson, North Dakota, as the youngest of four siblings watching and wanting to be a dancer like her older sister.
Milanovich, 24, said that she wanted to follow in her older sister’s footsteps, as many younger siblings do, but quickly realized her loud mouth and affinity for being the center of attention weren’t a good fit on the dance floor.
She took her talents to a different stage, acting in her first show at the age of eight. She played the role of Gladys in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and has been hooked ever since.
Milanovich said she didn’t have too many opportunities to act while attending Catholic school in a small Midwestern town, but that all changed when she arrived at Emerson for orientation.
“It was really nice to meet everyone and realize that everyone was as excited if not more excited than me [about theater],” Milanovich said. “That was just a really nice welcome.”
She immediately threw herself into auditions for student shows and productions, and this ferocity and energy meant there was no time to feel scared or timid about joining a scene in the world of theatre.
“I'm from North Dakota where it’s really small, coming from where I was the only one who wanted to do musicals to everyone wants to do musicals,” she said. “It was really freaky. Taking classes in the program was also new for me. Getting to come to class and be like, ‘Wow, I’m sitting in a room talking about plays. That’s what I want to do.’ This feels good.”
The opportunities only progressed from there. Milanovich acted in many different productions on campus after her arrival. Most notable to her was her role as an 80-year-old woman who got to sit and yell about food during a production of Grey Gardens.
In the summer between her sophomore and junior years of school, however, she realized she had a hard time finding plays that featured leading female roles that she wanted to perform. She said many of the available stage characters were just side parts or teenage girls yelling at their parents. She wanted real female characters.
So Milanovich decided to write her own. She wrote a play called A Yellow Watermelon about 20-somethings who don’t know what they want to do with their lives, and the play allowed her to take control of her own narrative and also create a more realistic and authentic portrayal of young women. She drew inspiration from her friends in the industry and what their abilities were as actors and worked around that.
At the time, in 2013, Rareworks was holding submissions for playwrights to audition their work for a festival. Milanovich sent her play in and it was chosen. That spring, her play was performed in the Greene Theater in Boston.
“It was cool to do a whole workshop process and work with professional playwrights,” Milanovich said. “It was a really good shift in realizing what I was capable of doing.”
After this experience, Milanovich dove deeper into her art. She began to take playwriting courses and soon turned her Emerson honors thesis into a narrative of women playwrights, with a supplementive play, of course.
Her former professor, Andrew Clarke, had Milanovich for multiple playwriting classes and said this honor and her success just speaks to her skills.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” Clarke said about A Yellow Watermelon. “I know lots of talented people writing good plays, but they can’t get them produced.”
Since graduation, Milanovich has continued to expand her craft. Her first play out of college was arguably her hardest, she said. She was cast in Theater on Fire’s production of It Felt Empty When the Heart Went at First But It is Alright Now, an almost solo performance that tells a depressing tale involving abuse, sex trafficking, and miscarriage.
Milanovich said she took on this role because she was recommended by Maureen Shea, the play’s director and former professor, who was unable to be reached for comment before print.
This role was a monster to fulfill, according to Milanovich. To prepare, she said, she thought about the material and subject matter as infrequently as she possibly could outside of rehearsal to keep her character’s depression from bleeding into her own life.
She is also involved with Brown Box Theater. The company performs free shows in areas of the country where many people lack access to performances or even community theater.
She said she loves when the tour visits these communities because of the joy that it brings to people. They go to the shows too because they are excited about the performance or about Shakespeare, she said.
The actress is currently in a show called Lucky Stiff. This musical about murder and mystery is put on by the Stoneham Theatre. After this, she’s booked with two more shows through February.
Milanovich said that, overall, she’s happy she decided to stay in Boston even as her fellow acting classmates dispersed to places like New York and Los Angeles. She really likes the theater community here, she said.
She was surprised to find herself on a 25 under 25 list comprised of young Red Sox players and women building robots. She has earned her place and has been reminded by friends and the Emerson faculty that recommended her for the list that what she does is equally as important.
“What’s cool is that the people who wrote this article think what you’re doing, making, and creating is on the same level, that it is equally as important,” she said about her work, in comparison to others on the list. “That’s really cool that someone was like, ‘This girl is making robots and that’s awesome, and this girl is doing Shakespeare and writing plays about teenage girls, and that’s also really cool.’”