In my last post I wrote about Missouri’s influence on Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson, and how he wrote his first play during lunchtime while working at an ad agency in Chicago.
But those weren’t the only things that shaped him as a writer. When Wilson was 26-years-old he moved to New York City in the early sixties and worked various odd jobs (dishwasher, reservation clerk, riveter, waiter)—but more importantly he became part of an informal group of about 45 writers. (One of the writers was Sam Shepard who at the time was a bus boy at a jazz club called The Village Gate.)
Here’s an excerpt from Dennis Brown’s book Shoptalk explaining the era:
Wilson became involved with Off-Off-Broadway when it was nurturing a young generation of writers.
“The greatest thing about the early days was that it was like a five-year apprenticeship for all of us,” he said. “I don’t know any place, even today, other than Off-Off-Broadway that offers people what we had. Working on one-act plays with live audiences that we had to get ourselves. It was dragging them off the streets.”
Talent has a way of clustering, and it clustered in Greenwich Village in the mid-sixties. These starving writers were filled with ambition and confidence.
“We knew,” Wilson enthused. “We knew. When Sam Shepard’s first play was done, there was a general cheer across all the Village. Everyone knew that someone was added to the list. We would sit talking about theater all night long in some cafe, and before we would leave someone would say, ‘Does this remind you of Van Gogh and Gauguin sitting together? We always knew!”
In 1969 Wilson, director Marshall, director Rob Thikield, and actress Tanya Berezin founded the Circle Repertory Company (first known as Circle Theater Company). In 1982, The New York Times stated, “Circle Rep is home to some of the most prolific talent in the American theater.”
P.S. The first play I ever saw on Broadway was a revival of The Three Sisters in 1997 featuring a Lanford Wilson translation of the Anton Chekhov play. The cast included Lili Taylor, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Amy Irving, Eric Stoltz, David Strathairn, Jerry Stiller, Calista Flockhart, Justin Theroux and Paul Giamatti. A lot of talent on one stage.