Supporting creative work by women
Pia Wilson is a 2015 Sundance fellow and the recipient of the 2014 Sarah Verdone Writing Award. She is a 2011 Heideman Award finalist for her short play, Turning the Glass Around, and a semi-finalist in the 2011 Bay Area Playwrights Festival. She is a 2012-13 resident with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace program, a member of the 2008 Emerging Writers Group at The Public Theater, and a 2009 playwriting fellow with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. She is also a member of The Passage Theatre Play Lab and a member of the 2009 Project Footlight team of composers and librettists.
Pia spoke with Works by Women about her love of theater, desire to also work in film and her upcoming commission with The NJPAC Stage Exchange.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Why theater? When did you know you wanted to be a playwright?
PIA WILSON: I was writing short stories at the time, and a friend of mine was in Paris, hanging out with a French actress. The actress needed a play, and I was convinced I could write what she needed: a two-hander. What I wrote wound up being a little too “American” for her purposes. I went on to produce (with monetary help from a lawyer friend of mine) and direct that play myself. That’s when I caught the bug. Theater was so immediate and high-risk every night. Irresistible.
WBW: What’s your process from inspiration to getting it down on the page?
PW: Usually, I’ll hear some dialogue or see a scene in my head for a month or two before I decide it’s a viable story. Then, more thinking about topic, theme, what the character needs to express. I’ll write character profiles, determine if I have an ending, and then launch the journey to get to that ending with the characters I have. Sometimes, I’ll have moments I know have to happen. But by no means am I a plot focused playwright. I’m characters first.
The cast of Turning the Glass Around – from left to right: Kristen Hung, Don Castro, Carmen Gill, Topher Mikels
WBW: You’ve got a commission from The NJPAC Stage Exchange for a play about social issues. Where are you in the process? How did you choose your subject matter? How does theater speak to the world at large?
PW: I did, and I’m very excited about the commission! Most of my plays are about social issues, particularly race, class, and the American identity. So, this was a natural fit. It’s very early in the process I’ve still sorting through my ideas about the play, but the plot is loosely based on a discovery I made a few years ago about my great-great-great-grandfather’s behavior during the Civil War and its impact today.
WBW: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
PW: About theater? Write more.
About life? Love and be loved in return. (I didn’t know my father got that advice from Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy).
The Flower Thief (Production Still) – Larry Powell as Young Clark and Keona Welch as Young Angela
WBW: What do playwrights need? What kind of support from arts organizations/friends/colleagues/audience members?
Playwrights need respect, love, time, money, and productions. I think the last item is most important. You learn so much in production that you can’t learn in readings. I do think it’s time to update our production model, but that’s easy for me to say as a playwright who doesn’t have to get butts in seats and support people’s salaries and please boards of directors. That said, I do think change is needed for theater to not just survive but thrive. We are ignoring the “climate change” of our own industry.
WBW: You’ve started to work in film. What excites you about screenwriting?
PW: This is so funny to me because I’m sort of coming full circle. I tried to break into film before I got into theater, even writing a short film that went on to place in film festivals domestically and abroad. But when I tried to get a film agent, they’d always remark about the high-quality of the writing but say that my scripts were plays. I guess they were right. And I’ve matured as a writer. Now, I have a terrific TV/Film agency and a new management company. I’m looking forward to bringing stories that crackle with life to big and small screens. I think the industry is ready, and if they’re not, they need to gird their loins!
WBW: What’s next for you?
PW: I’ve got quite a few stories on the brain, and I’m trying to decide where they belong. I’m ready to have fun and get people talking. There are opportunities to open up the national discourse, and I want to be a part of that conversation.
For more information about Pia Wilson, visit her website.
Headshot credit: Jason Moran