Carla Milarch: actress, playwright, director, thinker

Carla Milarch is a thinker. Every time she is asked a question she takes a second to ponder, she makes sure she gets the whole question, and outwardly seems to be reflecting on everything she does. Milarch is the founding artistic director of Theatre Nova, a non-profit in Ann Arbor that champions new playwrights and plays.

“There are a lot of phenomenal playwrights but to be in a room where it’s happening for the first time or one of the very first times, there is a unique thrill that comes with that,” Milarch said. “We always hope that people will walk out with an appreciation of new plays and the talent of playwrights.”

Milarch has been performing for her entire life. She started out performing in her father’s barn in Port Sanilac to Interlochen to theatres all around the United States. While she has always directed, she started playwriting around 20 years ago, starting with children’s plays and later transitioning to adult theatre.  

“I have always been a jack of all trades for theater,” she said. “It was always a real immersive ‘I love everything about theater so I do a little bit of everything which you kind of have to do when you run a smaller nonprofit.”

Theatre Nova opened in 2014 with the goal of focusing on playwright development programs. Milarch loves the process of dramaturgy, which focuses on giving feedback and stewarding new plays. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the theatre transitioned to virtual-based performances. In-person performances started up again around a year ago as people began to become comfortable going out to the theatre again. 

“From March of 2020 to September of 2021 all we did was virtual stuff, even then we did have a pretty robust community participation,” she said. “I have been pretty pleased with our growth over the years even though [I] was not pleased having to do it in the middle of a pandemic.” 

Since the beginning of the theatre’s inception, they have created a “pay what you can” ticket option for those who might not be able to pay the complete ticket price. Milarch was previously the artistic director at Performance Network Theatre, a former theatre in Ann Arbor. Performance Network instituted a preview “pay what you can” system for one of their shows. 

“Theatre is historically a very white and very old audience base and when we started we just thought ‘okay, this is our chance to do a whole lot of things differently,” Milarch said. “One thing that I noticed was that the audience for that one preview was a lot more diverse and a lot younger and we thought ‘well that’s what we want our audience to look like all the time.’” 

Nova means “new” in Latin, and also represents a new star. Milarch and her son are very into astronomy which inspired the name of the theater, advocating for the constant creation of new art. 

“We as a society need art, we need the sense of community, we need the forum for new ideas and dialogue, we need that experience of sitting in a room with people that are not like us having a common experience,” she said. “We need the presence and the mindfulness that you get when you are interacting with a work of art. It is an old sentiment but we need art probably more now than ever.”

Learn more about Theatre Nova at their website and check out the Michigan Playwrights Festival hosted at Theatre Nova from Sept.30 to Oct. 9.