When I was growing up, all I wanted to be was a movie star. Well, initially I wanted to be a Mousketeer, which would lead inevitably to all that other great stuff, right? (I didn’t have a crush on Annette, by the way – I had a crush on Darlene, and poor Darlene ended up in jail.) I kept this secret for many years – I was, I suppose, a sort of closet-movie-star – and when I finally told my parents that I wanted to study acting they were, to my surprise, very supportive.
I saw my first play when I was in ninth grade or so – a production of Richard III presented by Catholic University’s touring Players – and a few years later went to Catholic University as a Speech and Drama major. There I was fortunate enough to be cast in a lot of plays (rare for an undergraduate) even though film was still my Ultima Thule. During my junior year, sitting backstage waiting to make an entrance, it suddenly struck me like a bolt of lightning – I loved the theatre. Loved. “Loved” like in “I don’t want to do anything else.” Shortly after that I wrote my first play (as a young adult) and with great encouragement from Professor Leo Brady, who had had some success as a playwright when he was a young man, I wrote a second play. After that it became a habit.
I went to grad school at Penn State where – as the sole playwriting major – I participated in something called Five O’Clock Theatre, a gem of an idea that presented student one-acts directed and acted by students, admission free, to SRO audiences of fellow-students. The first play I wrote for Five O-Clock, an adaptation of George Jackson’s Soledad Brother, was reviewed very favorably by (can you believe it?) The New York Times. (It was pure coincidence that a Times writer happened to be visiting campus that weekend. She was also, by extraordinary coincidence, best friends with Jackson’s literary agent – so the play almost had a future until Jackson’s murder a few months later was followed by his family’s withdrawal of support for what they saw as “entertainment.”)
I wrote several other Five O’Clocks – the best hands-on experience I’ve ever had – and began work on a thesis play that I kept re-writing and re-writing ad nauseum. I left Penn State without a degree to pursue my acting career (which was going very well) until I finally had an opportunity to produce (and direct and star in) that adnauseum play of mine (it was called A Chosen Room and is now in a drawer somewhere) and moved to New York and discovered the O’Neill Playwriting Conference (as an actor) and wrote Agnes of God. The day I received the telegram inviting me to bring it to the O’Neill I knew my life was changed forever!