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Student Blog: In Conversation With Joshua Piper

Student Blog: In Conversation With Joshua Piper

Wagner's Joshua Piper on his upcoming play The Vehicles That Brought Me Here, writing, and what's up next for him.

I first met Joshua Piper during my orientation in August where he acted as LC 3's guide to all things Wagner. He was very charismatic and kind, just the person you wanted to welcome you to a new place. It wasn't long before LC 3 and I discovered his talents for acting and writing. A beloved member of the Wagner Theater community, Josh performed in many productions here at Wagner, his most recent being CSP's Boys In The Band as The Cowboy. This upcoming month The Vehicles That Brought Me Here, a trilogy of plays written by Josh will be shown at Wagner's Stage One. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview him and poke his brain a little to get an insight into his writing process, his inspirations, and his experiences as a writer. To me, Josh is a perfect example of not only the welcoming community that you will be met with the minute you set foot on campus but also the immense talent and creativity that can be found at Wagner.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Joshua Piper: I'm from Katy, Texas, and I'm a junior Theatre Performance major at Wagner College. My first theatre production was in sixth grade and it sorta stuck with me. Just before high school, I started going to a community theater, the Katy Visual Performance Art Center, and I was acting in a lot of obscure plays and musicals and I just loved it. I decided from there theater was what I wanted to do, and when I got to Wagner College I was acting in a lot of student-written work my freshman year which gave me encouragement to try and write work of my own. Writing took off from there.

Where do you draw your inspiration for your writing? What is your writing process like?

JP: A lot of my writing contains inspiration from my life as well as the people around me. A lot of my characters are from Texas, a lot of them say y'all, a lot of them are gay, and a lot of them are Asian as that's my experience. However, I try a lot to move outside my comfort zone within writing to find other stories to tell, as well. I also take a lot of inspiration from books, other plays, and TV I watch. As for my writing process, it varies from piece to piece. There are some plays that I just walk into with an idea and a couple days later I'll have a draft. Other plays have taken me years to get past writer's block to get past the first page. One thing that has stayed constant is that I'm constantly writing down my ideas, things I hear, and quotes in a notebook. If it brings inspiration, I write it down. Other than that I just try to write pages and if I'm lucky the plot will fall into place for me, if not I figure it out.

What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?

JP: Just put something on the page. You can make something of something, you can't make something of nothing. Take a playwriting class if you're able to and if not study the work around you. Read plays, go see performances, watch films, just ingest every piece you can. If you considered the piece to be good, figure out why you thought it was good, and go from there. You can get way more advice on writing when you actively observe how something is written. You'll know when you're watching something with good writing.

Along with being a playwright, you are also an actor, does your insight as an actor help you as a writer?

JP: As an actor, I know when a script feels clunky, every actor can tell when a line doesn't feel right. Because of this, I've been able to avoid some of the things that make a play harder to act in. However, trust me, I have a long way to go. I think the other thing that being an actor has informed in my writing is how I create characters. I never want any of my characters to be frustrating to play. When writing characters I often think about whether or not I would be excited to play this character? If not then I need to revise the character. I never want someone to feel like they are playing a bad character in a play I wrote. So, I've written a lot of characters I want to play, but more importantly, I've hopefully written roles other people would be excited to play.

Are there any playwrights or written works that inspire you and why?

JP: So many. Recently Ned Rorem's Paris and New York Diaries have been a big source of inspiration. He writes a lot of intrusive thoughts that I would imagine are scary to admit. I think there's something interesting to that. Similarly, Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge always sparks my creativity for many of the same reasons. Finally, I'd say any of Chay Yew's plays really speak to me. His play, Wonderland, was probably the first play I really saw myself as a person in, as a gay, Asian, and Christian man. Seeing yourself in the media is powerful, it validates your feelings in many ways. Chay Yew's work has been that source of media for me. I'd hope that other people who have felt underrepresented would find themselves in my work.

What do you think is the most important skill for a playwright to have?

JP: Persistence. I know that's not necessarily a skill, but I think that's a key trait for any writer or any artist. In playwriting, you have to write persistently. When a play isn't panning out the way you want it to, take a break from it, but write something else. Often that brings me to the point where I can finish the original project I was working on.

What advice do you have for other playwrights that are looking to produce their works?

JP: Keep writing, don't give up, submit your work wherever you can, and make it happen. Don't wait for it to be given to you. Advocate for yourself. Put together a reading with your friends, submit it to contests, and find local or educational theater companies that would be interested in workshopping the show, just don't give up because it is hard. It is very hard, but that's where you must have persistence and keep pushing forward.

You recently had your play 10-27 Fire in Progress produced at the IHRAF Winterfest, how was that experience for you and how has being able to see your work come to life changed your writing?

JP: It was amazing. It told me so much about how a director will read my piece as well as actors, some of whom I hadn't met prior, will interpret my work. I saw things that I really loved that I'm putting into the play, and I saw shortcomings on my part to explain myself clearly in the text. The director and actors were so amazing to work with. They created something really great and I'm very thankful to them. Overall, it was enlightening to see how the text was interpreted. I'm very excited to move forward in revisions to that piece after this really positive experience.

You have a play that will be playing at Wagner College's Stage One, The Vehicles That Brought Me Here, can you tell me a little bit about the play and where you got the idea for it?

JP: The Vehicles That Brought Me Here is a trilogy comprised of three plays: A Playlist for the Summer, Place Of Departure (or The Airport Play), and People You Meet On Your Daily Commute. The first play I wrote was Place Of Departure... which was originally titled simply The Airport Play. The play itself acted as my version of a journal. It was where I kept my thoughts about a person I had met in Texas as well as how my outlook on life changed after meeting them. The plot is simple, Man A meets Man B in an airport and they fall in love in an undetermined amount of time. This play has been a project that has stuck with me. In a playwriting class last year I decided to write a play called A Playlist for the Summer in which Man B reappeared, this time being named Blaze. Blaze was a high schooler dealing with the aftermath of his coming out to his parents while navigating the entrance of adulthood with his best friend, Celiana, and taking solace in his sister, Dodie. After writing that play, I realized there was more I had to say with this character, B. I wrote People You Meet On Your Daily Commute concerning Man B's, now named Beckett, journey to find the person he wanted to be after graduating college. The Vehicles That Brought Me Here is the collection of these plays, all these thoughts I've collected over the past three years. Maybe Beckett will have another story later down the line, but I probably won't name him Beckett. I think every character always has something to learn, and Beckett's learned as much as I wanted him to for now.

What do you hope audiences will take with them after seeing the production?

JP: I hope they see themselves in this production. I found a lot of optimism in writing these plays, in that the world will keep spinning and if you continue forward you may find something beautiful around the corner. Overall, I hope people talk about this production and that even the smallest thing from it might stick with them.

Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?

JP: Upcoming I'm cast in Galatea at Wagner College, and then I'll be performing in my play, Café Americano May 18-21st at the New York Theater Festival held at the Teatro Latea in Manhattan. I have a couple of readings of other plays lined up as well as a short film script I just finished.

The Vehicles That Brought Me Here will run February 16th through the 19th at Wagner College's Stage One Theater.

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