A Long Arts-Packed Road To Novelist
While studying theatre in college, (alongside founding members of Steppenwolf Theatre), I joined a writer’s group that sprouted up, in part, because of the success of my friend, playwright Jim Sherman. That’s Jim with me in a stage production at Illinois State. I’m the one standing, over-exposed and emoting.
My passion was acting and playwriting, but I worked my way through college 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.
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.” Then he joked about my skipping a potential sex scene.
My second short story was written in a theatre dressing room, between scenes for a small acting 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.
Because it was my third professional acting gig, I needed to join the actor’s union. That was about the same time two of my brothers named their country music duo “The Truesdells,” in honor of a beloved family member. So I did the same, and both my stage and pen names became William Truesdell.
My last year in Boston were a whirlwind. Along with my job at the Huntington, I acted in three plays and two short films. Three short stores tumbled out of me. And my wife, Susan, and I were blessed with our only child, Nicole. Two days later, I accepted a job at The Cleveland Play House. The next nine years were among the most fulfilling of my life, mostly just being a dad.
During a very tumultuous year at the Play House, I was fired. Fortunately, the Cleveland Orchestra hired me as their temporary marketing manager. Even though they offered me the permanent position, the Cleveland Museum of Art had also made an offer to lead their communications department. It blew my mind that two amazing, internationally acclaimed arts organizations wanted me just after being fired. It took me over a week to decide. And despite my bewilderment that the museum wanted someone with no museum experience or knowledge of art, I opted for the CMA thinking it would be the greater adventure.
It turned out to be a creative gold mine for me with multiple visits to every major art museum 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 upcoming novel.
A year later, the day after the 9/11 attack, I walked away from the art museum (another book if I'm allowed to write it). Over the next two months of the depressing time, a romantic comedy play poured out of me.
I returned to the professional theatre for my next job —Kansas City Repertory Theatre. It reunited me with the artistic director from the Huntington who gave me insight and encouragement after seeing a fully staged workshop of the play. It also received a mostly flattering review by the Kansas City Pitch. a weekly alternative newspaper.
Eventually, I learned that my best play to date was not challenging enough for most regional theatres, too challenging for community theatres, and not enough a sure thing (profit-wise) for commercial theatres. So, I used it as the blueprint for a novel that became For Love of Art and Ericka.
For ten years after KC Rep, I consulted around the country including major theatres in Milwaukee and Dallas, a performing arts center on Long Island, and theatre in Colorado Springs. Then I returned to Illinois State University, to mange the Illinois Shakespeare Festival.
Today, I enjoy writing full-time in central Illinois.