Elise Milner believes some people enter our life and change it for a moment — or for a lifetime. That is the premise of Angels Among Us, written by the Cortlandt resident, who runs theater company Hanging Cow Productions, where she is Artistic Director.
Angels first was staged in 2017 and again in 2018 at the American Theater of Actors (ATA) on 54th Street in Manhattan. On Oct. 6-9, it will play in our backyard, with a production at Yorktown Stage in Yorktown Heights. The run marks Hanging Cow’s first east coast production since the pandemic.
Wanting the audience to feel connected to both the story and the stage, Milner chose the 500-plus-seat theater, which suits the scale of her production better than the cavernous, 1500-seat Paramount in Peekskill. Among the cast are Nicole Arcieri (White Plains), Brian Michael O’Neill (Eastchester), Robert Mark (Scarsdale), and Samantha Mileski (Monroe). Rehearsals are being held at Antonia Arts Academy on South Street in Peekskill, owned by prominent area arts entrepreneur Scarlett Antonia.
Milner discovered her creative abilities as a child living on a rural Nevada horse ranch where neighbors were an ATV ride away and the closest mall a 45-minute drive. Following high school, she attended community college in California where, after reading original scenes she’d written for an acting/directing television class, the professor suggested she try her hand writing plays, she recounts.
In 1999, having grown weary of southern California, she moved to New York, where she auditioned as an actor for a theater company producing the work of novice playwrights. She got the gig. After two shows, her hope of writing a play the company would produce was dashed when the company folded. Disappointed, but not discouraged, Milner envisioned forming her own production company.
It was while living in the Ardsley, waitressing, and writing her first play—a holiday musical parody titled ButtCracker — that Elise met her future husband, artist/photographer Chris Berlino. Without funding or investors for the holiday musical, she sold ads in a mock Playbill to Ardsley and Manhattan businesses. She used the ad revenue to rent an Off Broadway theater where, she says, the first run of her first show sold out. The couple moved to Manhattan, where Elise continued to write and produce.
“I adopted Chris into the theatrical world, training him to run lights, build sets and stage manage,” she says.
In 2007, the couple married in a Civil War-themed wedding they orchestrated, and Elise continued nurturing creative projects. In 2020, two weeks before the opening of her 15th Off Broadway show, the pandemic brought down the curtain on New York City theaters.
While living in Manhattan, Milner always kept one eye on Cortlandt as a desirable place to settle. She had been captivated by its peace and tranquility while shopping for the horse she now owns, One Tall Sully.
Elise and Chris found a cottage near a stable on the Cortlandt Manor-Peekskill border where, she enthuses, “the local camaraderie is unmatched and everyone supports everyone, and is so friendly.”
They frequent the flea and farmers’ markets, and enjoy events at Riverfront Green Park and Bear Mountain. A lifelong lover of theater, Elise recently enjoyed Broadway’s Book of Mormon and Wicked, and she happily supports local productions and venues like the Paramount.
When asked for one word to describe how it feels to have a youthful pipe dream turn into a grownup dream come true, Elise’s word of choice is “Exhilarating.”
Donna Landi, a resident of Sleepy Hollow, has also contributed to Hudson Valley Magazine, Persimmon Tree, Writer Advice, Wow-Women on Writing and others.