You had a wildly successful first career as the President of several major beauty companies. You also served as Chairman of the Board of The Fashion Group International and The Fragrance Foundation, as well as received many industry accolades. However, during your work life, you also had a personal passion that was always a part of your life. Can you explain that?
I had a challenging childhood in Cleveland. My father deserted my mom and her three kids when I was eight, and it was a struggle for her to support us on her minimum-wage job. Probably, as a result, I was an unsettled kid working at a C-level at school. I just didn’t care. In ninth grade, a teacher took me under her wing and changed my life.
She was taking a group of kids to NYC on Spring break and invited me to go along. It was far too expensive for me, but she “hired” me to assist her after school. I would clean the blackboards, straighten the desks, and help her grade tests, and for these simple chores, she would pay my way to The Big Apple. On the trip, we saw four Broadway shows, and I was hooked. I’d never experienced anything like it. My passion for theater started that April and has been with me ever since.
I started writing plays in high school with my friend, Mark O’Donnell, who would eventually go on to write the book for the musical Hairspray. I continued to write long after high school. Throughout my business career, I would wake up at 4am and write until 7am before going to work. After work and on the weekends, my wife and I would go to the theater. We would see nearly everything on and off Broadway. It was and still is my true passion. Fortunately, I married someone who shares that passion.
At a certain point, you decided to “rewire” into playwriting as a full-time profession. What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making such a leap into a new creative profession?
I view life as a play. In Act One, the lead character, you, learns and grows, facing challenges, overcoming conflicts, building relationships, and developing passions.
All of this is necessary and, hopefully, rewarding. The real payoff comes in Act Two.
It’s here we learn whether or not the lead character accomplishes the goals they set up in Act One. It’s important to plan ahead for this act. Incorporate all that you’ve learned and focus on what you are most passionate about. If you do it right, these will be the best scenes of your life.
Your work has been presented on stages across America, the UK, India, and Sweden. Your work has been presented in over 100 play festivals and you just won the W. Keith Hedrick National Playwriting Award! It sounds like you are having great success in your newly chosen career! What is happening next in your playwriting life? Also, how can readers learn more about your work?
I have a number of productions coming up, which are listed on my website. I’ve just finished writing the book and lyrics for a new musical called Illusion, with composer Steve Zackim, an American now living in the UK. Our hope is to get it staged in the coming year. In addition, I am on the Board of Directors of the Dramatist Guild Foundation, and I lead a playwright/actor group called P.A.G.E.S. every Tuesday night on Zoom. Readers can learn more about my work on my website, the Dramatists Guild Foundation, New Play Exchange, or Playwrights Center.