Last weekend I attended the final performance of the three-week run of The Flower Thief by Pia Wilson '93. The tiny Red Room Theater on East 4th Street in Manhattan was packed, all 40 or so seats sold out to an appreciative audience. It was produced by the Horse Trade Theater Group and The Fire This Time Festival of works by early-career playwrights of African and African American descent.
The witty, funny, poetic play unfolded the story of Clark, a middle-aged man still haunted by his long-deceased twin brother, Jimmy, who drowned when the two were teenagers. In well-integrated flashbacks, the story of young Clark and his future wife, Angela, threaded both characters' back story throughout the performance, until the two time periods collided to make a surprising and ghostly ending that I was still pondering the next morning. The cast was terrific and the set effective and evocative.
I had the opportunity to meet the dynamic playwright at the performance, although she's not entirely new to me, because she wrote a beautiful essay that I commissioned from her for Wagner Magazine back in 2008. I've heard about her many triumphs since then (read more about them on her website), but this was my first chance to see her work on stage, and I grabbed it.
Then she graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me about herself and her work. I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have!
Wagner Magazine: What are you doing to make a living, what are your Wagner grad year & major, have you earned further degrees?
Pia Wilson: I'm a writer, editor and graphic designer to pay the bills. B.A. in English, 1993, and no, I never got any other degrees, though I periodically think about it.
WM: What first sparked your interest in playwriting?
PW: A friend was in Paris, talking with an actress friend of hers who was in need of a play for two characters. My friend recommended me to the actress, and although I'd never written a play before, I found myself agreeing to write one for the lovely French actress. Long story short, the play wound up being "too American," and I produced it myself in 2007.
WM: What makes you good at what you do?
PW: I've been a writer my entire life, and I respect the craft. I feel I am also a strong writer because I have a serious devotion to characterization. To me, characters drive a play, and a by-product of my deep respect for characterization is a keen ear for dialogue.
WM: What is the proudest moment in your career so far?
PW: Becoming a member [in 2008] of the inaugural Emerging Writers Group at The Public Theater.
WM: Tell us about a recent theatrical production or movie you saw, or a book you read, and why it impressed you.
PW: I recently read a wonderfully interesting book called Kiffe Kiffe Demain (the English version is Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow), about the life of an Arabic teenager who lives with her mom in the projects of Paris. The book's author captures the teen voice and thought process so well, and she really gives you a look at the underbelly of the City of Lights.
WM: If you had to choose another career, what would it be?
PW: I would be a pastry chef! I almost went to culinary school last year but didn't want to foot the bill.
WM: What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?
PW: Oh, I don't know. I'm pretty much an open book. Maybe that I have a pretty bad temper. I get over things fairly quickly, but to quote Dr. Bruce Banner, "Don't make me angry. You won't like me when I'm angry."
WM: What's your definition of living a good life?
PW: A day, sitting outside, maybe at a cafe table on the sidewalk or on a friend's patio, drinking highballs, talking with friends who drop by and then maybe having a bonfire on the beach that night. Good food, good drinks, and good friends. Art is in there somewhere, but that's about it.
WM: How has your Wagner education helped you succeed?
PW: Wagner was a wonderful experience. It was close to Manhattan but far enough away to keep me out of trouble. I remember a beautiful campus and professors who really took an interest in me as a person. You could experiment too. I was an English major, but most people thought I was involved with the theater because I liked hanging out with the artsy crowd. I took a directing course, some photography classes, wherever my interests lead, Wagner let me follow. It made me more of a well-rounded person, and I think that exposure to different trains of thought and art fuels my creativity and curiosity today.
— Laura Barlament, Editor, Wagner Magazine 08/23/12
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