Sofya Levitsky-Weitz’s work philosophy is simple: “Write the thing you’re most excited about,” she said, but “be prepared for a lot of rejection.”
Levitsky-Weitz graduated from Northwestern’s MFA in Writing for Screen and Stage in 2015 before going on to serve as a contributing writer on major television productions including the FX hit show “The Bear,” “The Dropout” on HULU and "Gaslit” on Starz.
Northwestern served as one of the first “big bridges” she had to cross while navigating life as an artist, she said, which helped her build the confidence she would need to succeed later on.
Now, she returns to campus to showcase one of five plays she wrote post-graduate school. “Be Mean To Me” is a story about female friendship and the damage people can inflict on themselves in the name of love, desire and ambition. The play is part of the fall season at the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts. It runs Friday, Nov. 18, to Sunday, Nov. 20, in the Hal & Martha Hyer Wallis Theater.
Levitsky-Weitz talked with Northwestern Now about the play, how she found her place in show business and the advice she has for current students.
What was your intention in writing “Be Mean To Me?”
I initially wrote the play in 2018. I like to joke that it started out as a love letter to my best friend and ended up as a horror play. It's about two girls who are best friends. The play takes place when they’re 17 and 27 years old and goes seamlessly back and forth between the two ages. I wanted it to reflect how these two relationships change over time. Also, there is a third male character who helps the women confront a lot of trauma from boys and men in their lives.
Is it autobiographical?
The two main characters are amalgamations of me and my best friend. But they’re their own creation. So, it doesn’t feel as literal in that way. I’m definitely drawing a lot from our friendship though.
What do you hope audiences take from the play?
It’s so exciting to just be with two young women for a whole play and hear their hopes and their dreams and their friendship and their conflicts. I hope the story humanizes them. The play really shows what it’s like to be a young woman and what it’s like to have a complicated female relationship and grow up with someone, grow apart, but then come back together.
Since graduating from Northwestern, you have been in the writers’ room on several big TV projects. How did you find success in a relatively short time?
Thomas Bradshaw, who is now chair of RTVF told me, ‘If you want to be in TV, you got to go to New York. You must do the playwriting thing. Go to the shows, go to the bars, ask people out for coffee, be in the scene. When you want to write for TV, you’re going to exit the elevator on a different floor.’ I took that advice and went to New York right after I graduated. I did the struggling artist thing and asked myself ‘Is it ever gonna happen?’ I ended up getting a playwriting fellowship in Minneapolis. Through some connections, I landed my first staffing job for the show ‘Gaslit.’ From that show, I got an interview for a five-week writing job and that ended up being for “The Bear.” This all happened before the show was even ordered to a series. They shot the pilot, and it was picked up by FX. We’re now working on season two.
Where you surprised by the popularity of “The Bear?”
You never know what is going to be popular, especially with so much TV out there and so much of it great. But after I was in the original mini room for the show, back in Spring 2021, and then they filmed the pilot and I got to see it, I told everyone this is going to be special. It just had that freshness and pace and is so unabashedly doing what it wants to do. I think that’s what people responded to as well — the show is extremely original and so itself. It’s been so exciting to see the responses.
Any hints about season two?
The second season writers’ room is ending this week. It went by so quickly. It’s going to be an amazing second season. It’s exciting that since it was so successful, we were given more freedom to do what we wanted. So, the season will delve even more deeply into characters, and we’ve taken more risks, too. It will air again June 2023.
What’s next for you?
My goal is to work on my own development and pitch my own stuff. I have been working with Lionsgate on an original show, co-created with my friend Sarah Blush. It’s an erotic thriller meets stoner romcom about fate and free will, premonitions and relationships. We’re super excited to continue work on it in the coming year.
Many students hope for quick success after college. What advice do you have to help them on their journey?
Ambition is great. It’s important to believe in yourself and have specific goals. Remember, you’re on a path and it’s hard to see what the path looks like while you’re on it. You’re going to have to take what I call “survival jobs” to pay the bills. The other thing I would say is meet people. Listen to people. Work with people. Surround yourself with community and find your people. Build authentic relationships that aren’t just about what you can get from someone. Connect with a mentor. It’s important to remember my path is unique to me. No path is the same. But hearing others’ journeys can help you figure out what yours might look like.