Inside the Playwrights Project — Sam Mossler

Sam Mossler. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Timely lessons. Timeless theater.

The multi-talented Sam Mossler is a playwright, actor, and improv comedian. Before the pandemic, he put his many talents to work at Florida Studio Theatre. He performed on stage in such FST productions as How to Use a Knife, The Nether, and Kunstler. Backstage, he taught acting and playwriting in FST classes for adults and children. After the pandemic hit, Mossler didn’t stop creating for FST, although he had to make a few adjustments. He now teaches his classes on Zoom. Mossler put his acting talents on hold — and put his playwriting talents to work. He’s currently working on two new plays for The Playwrights Project. These scripts are designed as Theatre for Young Adults (TYA) performances. Mossler is speaking to young minds — but he’s not talking down to them.

What got you started on your theatrical journey?

I had the good fortune to grow up at Florida Studio Theatre. I was a very hammy child. My mother knew I’d need a place where my skills could thrive. She sent me to FST’s performing arts camp at the age of nine. They fostered me, not only as performer, but as a writer. In 1991, I became a part of the inaugural season of FST’s Young Playwrights Festival, and that was super-encouraging. Some of my childhood idols from theaters all over town were acting out my words on stage! That set me on the right trajectory.

Don’t be bashful. You weren’t merely ‘part’ of the inaugural season — your play won. What was the title?

It was called Dating Tips from a Real Blowd in the Glass Cat.

Cool. Could you give us a quick TV Guide summary of your play?

Sure. It was a musical about a young beatnik who was unsuccessful in his romantic pursuits. He falls in love with a perfect woman, and then finds out that she’s an alien.

How’d you get involved with The Playwrights Project?

Caroline Kaiser, FST’s Director of Children’s Theatre, approached me about adapting mythology for live theater as part of the Project. The play would be produced for FST’s Children’s Theatre program in the future.

What myth did you choose?

I actually chose two! I’m currently working on adaptations of the Persephone and Icarus myths.

What drew you to these particular myths?

I was looking for myths that spoke to the young audiences of today. Myths that offered timely lessons…granted a few subtle tweaks in the timeless stories.

What about tweaks in style? Do you find yourself writing one way for children and another way for adults?

Not really. I try not to change my writing style too much.

Why not?

Because, although it’s been several centuries, I still remember what it was like to be a child. I got so much more from the adults who didn’t talk down to me and weren’t afraid to use three-syllable words. That’s why I loved Looney Tunes cartoons. They were accessible to me – but never insulted my intelligence. They might drop a reference I didn’t get — like, say, Edward G. Robinson. The joke would go right over my head! But I’d be curious and look it up, and it was an opportunity for me to learn. That stuck in my mind to this day. Kids are bright and they can draw a lot from context. I try to be aware of that when I’m writing for children. There’s no need to “dumb things down” for them.

Kunstler 1
Sam Mossler as William Kunstler in Kunstler by Jeffrey Sweet. Photo by Matthew Holler.

So, no changes in style. How are you adjusting the original myths for contemporary children?

There are obvious realms to avoid. Greek mythology is packed with NC-17 material. The original gods were a temperamental bunch — prone to incest, evil spells, rape, murder, and worse. I cleaned up their act for young minds. And I also took the liberty of changing some of the narratives. So, in my retelling of the story, Icarus doesn’t die – I don’t want children to think that they shouldn’t fly high or take risks. Persephone was originally kidnapped, and taken to the underworld against her will. My Persephone has agency. In my version, she makes a choice to go to the underworld, and also decides to come back and keep her mother company for eight months every year. The original lessons might be: Play it safe! Obey your parents! I’d like to think we’ve moved on from that.

Sam Mossler is a playwright, actor, improv performer, and voiceover talent. He’s currently adapting the myths of Icarus and Persephone as two Theatre for Young Adults stage productions as part of the Playwrights Project at Florida Studio Theatre.