When you’re in the ring with the big boys in Hollywood, it helps to have a sister in your corner.
For Jill Soloway, the TV writer and producer (“The United States of Tara,” “Six Feet Under”) who makes her feature film directing debut with the just-opened “Afternoon Delight,” that’s “sister” figuratively and literally. Boston’s own Faith Soloway, known for her “schlock operas” such as “Miss Folk America” and “Jesus Has Two Mommies,” is Jill’s sole sibling, comic colleague, and best friend. They are whom each one calls when things are going badly, and when they’re going well.
“It’s like having your own voice squared,” says Jill, 48, of Faith, 49. “People out there in the world without a close sibling who is also an artistic collaborator are at such a disadvantage. I was just talking to Jay Duplass about his relationship with Mark [they co-wrote and directed “Jeff Who Lives at Home”] and how having a brother so close allows you to say yes to yourself more. I really got that with Faith growing up, and I still have that on a professional level.”
The sisters’ collaborative spirit began in their native Chicago, where writing songs and performing plays was nurtured by their parents. “My mom’s a writer; dad’s a singer. Creativity as a job was always presented as a possibility for us,” says Faith. “It wasn’t a ‘you should get a real job’ kind of thing.”
But Faith, who lives in Roslindale, does have a “real job.” She writes and directs musicals for Urban Improv, a Boston school and community program. For the past 18 summers, she’s headed the music theater department of the Charles River Creative Arts summer program in Dover. In between, she’s done everything from a Web series called “Secrets” to her popular “Faith Soloway’s Lesbian Cinema Schlock Treatment” at the Somerville Theatre. “It’s about keeping creative for me. Nothing’s ever a failure. You put stuff out there, change voices, change vehicles. It’s all part of the process,” she says.
That process is something Jill understands well. After working her way into the creative circles of HBO and Showtime, she was eager to make her own film. “Afternoon Delight” is a comic drama about married, bored Jewish mom Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) who becomes obsessed with saving young stripper and sex worker McKenna (Juno Temple). Soloway’s feminist but irreverent take on modern womanhood and female sexuality unnerved friends and investors who cautioned her that some moments — Rachel accompanying McKenna to a job, for instance — veered too close to the edge. “People prefer to have women in boxes in movies and TV: good mom, bad stripper. I had to fight many battles starting at script level,” says Jill. “One [potential investor] said, ‘The movie should be about motherhood or sex. It can’t be about both.’ I said, ‘If it’s not about both, it won’t work. If I’m forced to choose, this movie will be stupid.’”
Faith read each draft of her sister’s script and provided notes. “She’s worked hard for years to do something really brave; I’ve seen her struggle for distribution. Stars were in, then out. Money was in, then out, all the way to Sundance. I’ve learned from her. I watched how much she had to push at every step of the way.”
The Soloways honed their creative voices in Chicago’s improvisational comedy scene, where both were members of the Annoyance Theatre and Faith spent three years as music director for Second City. It was while Jill and Faith watched a “Brady Bunch” rerun on TV with a friend who recited all the lines verbatim that they hit upon the idea for their first original musical, “The Real Live Brady Bunch.” It opened at the Annoyance Theatre in 1990 with Andy Richter as Mike Brady and Jane Lynch as Carol. Lynch quickly became a friend and honorary Soloway sister. When the “Glee” star was tapped to host the 2011 Emmy Awards, she called Faith and Jill to help her write material. Lynch also plays Rachel’s hilariously self-centered therapist in “Afternoon Delight.”
“The Real Live Brady Bunch” became a smash, toured the country, and inspired “The Brady Bunch Movie” (1995). Both Soloways moved to Hollywood and were briefly attached to that project. But while Jill began to make her way in Tinseltown, Faith in 1996 decided to move to Boston. She was in a relationship with the medical school-bound sister of the actress who played Jan Brady on stage. Besides that, “I was done with LA,” she says.
“I was so mad! I wanted to be in the same city,” says Jill, who’s married to music supervisor Bruce Gilbert. “It makes me crazy. I think we’ll get back [to that] one of these days.”
Geography aside, though, they continue to find ways to collaborate. Faith is writing a stage musical for the YouTube star Miranda Sings, the off-kilter comic creation of Colleen Ballinger. Jill Soloway and Lynch, both fans of Miranda Sings, will produce it. Ballinger, says Faith, was weighing lots of offers for projects but she “liked my irreverence because she’s so willing to go to those places as a character. I’m comfortable working with others who can carry my insanity.”
For both Soloways, the goal of creating entertainment has always been the same: to go back to the beginning, when they performed in their living room in Chicago. “I wanted to recapture the spirit of Faith and I creating musicals, staging plays for the neighbors and not even realizing how much we were writing comedy,” says Jill. “Faith would be on piano and I’d write lyrics and we’d be cracking up. To take that same feeling and have it be my career is in some ways a dream come true.”