In college I studied theatre at Illinois State University, alongside founding members of Steppenwolf Theatre. With the playwriting success of classmate Jim Sherman, a writer’s group sprouted up and I jumped in. That’s Jim with me in a production of Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound. I’m the one standing, acting a dream sequence and over-exposed.
While I focused on acting and playwriting, I worked my way through school as a radio announcer same as my father. This experience set me on the path to becoming an arts communications specialist. Upon completing my Master’s degree, I landed a public relations and marketing job at Northlight Theatre on Chicago’s North Shore. These were exciting times as Chicago’s theatre scene was burgeoning. The creative energy spilled out onto the streets and into the bars on the Northside.
I continued writing, including a stage adaptation of Margery Williams The Velveteen Rabbit which Contemporary Drama Services published. (Years later they told me it was one of their best-selling plays for schools and churches.) A change in leadership at Northlight prompted me to accept a job managing Chicago’s “second” symphony orchestra with musicians from the Lyric Opera. That's my wife Susan with me at an Orchestra of Illinois benefit.
In the late 1980s, the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston beckoned me. My day hours went into building audiences for my employer. At night, (if there wasn’t a play opening), I kept a hand in creative writing. A turning point came when I took a fiction writing class with novelist George V. Higgins at Boston University. After reading my required short story for the class, Higgins, a former prosecutor, studied my face and said, “You’re a writer, Will.” So I got myself the newest word-processing portable computer.
My second short story was written in a theatre dressing room, between scenes for the bus driver part in Night of the Iguana at a small theatre. It marked the end of my self-imposed exile from the stage since college. Soon after, I played several characters in Wallace Shawn’s Marie & Bruce for a theatre in the South End. It yielded me a favorable mention in the Boston Globe. Then the same director cast me as Boolie in Driving Miss Daisy, which ran for over three months at two locations, including Cape Cod. With it I needed to join the actor’s union and I made my official stage William Truesdell in honor of my grandfather.
My last year and a half in Boston became a whirlwind. Along with my job at the Huntington, I acted in three professional play productions and two short films. Three short stories tumbled out of me. And my wife, Susan, and I were blessed with our only child, Nicole. Two days later, The Cleveland Play House hired me. These were exciting years for the city and me just being a dad.
After three transformational years at the Play House, the Board fired its artistic director and I got caught in the upheaval. Three weeks later, I became interim marketing manager for the Cleveland Orchestra. When they offered me the permanent position, the Cleveland Museum of Art had also made me an offer. How amazing to have two internationally acclaimed arts organizations wanting me to head their communications and marketing departments! It took me a week to decide. And despite my bewilderment that the museum wanted someone with no art museum experience, I opted for the learning a new field of the arts.
It became an adventure of artistic discovery with enormous success with exceptional perks like multiple visits to major art museums in America, London and Paris. I was especially inspired by an exhibition the CMA did exclusively in Cleveland about the Bugatti family of artists, the basis of my next novel.
Six years later, on the day after the 9/11 attack, I walked away from it all (the backstory is another book in the offing). Over the next two weeks of that distressing time, a wrote a screwball comedy. It was a great escape.
By year seven at KC Rep, nearly all goals of the 2002 strategic plan were achieved and a new artistic director arrived. I opted for free-agency and became a freelance consultant allowing me periods of time to focus on my writing. It also took me to Milwaukee, Dallas, Colorado Springs, Montgomery, and Long Island. Over that time I drafted a musical bio about the life of Tennessee Ernie Ford, a memoire of my six years at the Art Museum, and a stage play about young love.
My next job fulfilled a career goal managing a major professional theatre —Kansas City Repertory Theatre. It reunited me with the Huntington Theatre's artistic director who encouraged me to keep writing after seeing my play staged. It also received a favorable review in one of Kansas City's influential newspapers.
As promising as it started, the play didn't fit neatly into any category for most professional theatres, and required a large cast. So I made it the blueprint for my first novel.
Nearly ten years later, my alma mater asked me to be managing the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington-Normal. Here I am on one of the sets under construction.
Today I enjoy writing full time with new and unfinished projects calling out to me.
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