By Lettie Stratton
Shelburne native Greg Pierce has more to brag about than being the nephew of David Hyde Pierce who played Dr. Niles Crane on the NBC sitcom Fraser. “Slowgirl,” a play penned by Pierce, just opened at the New Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center. It has been so successful that the theater offered Pierce a commission to write another play and gave “Slowgirl” a two-week extension.
In Vermont Pierce said he was a “closet writer,” not partaking in any formal writing programs. Instead, he started out acting. “I have wonderful memories of being in school plays,” Pierce said, listing an impressive number of titles he was involved in at both Champlain Valley Union and the school formerly known as Shelburne Middle. “It wasn’t until I left Vermont that I realized how lucky I was to have grown up with such incredible theater programs. I had wonderful teachers all along the way: Tom French, Bonnie Douglas, Carl Recchia, and Robin Fawcett,” he said.
Pierce studied acting at Oberlin College but found that he was much more drawn to the act of writing. “I was always rewriting scenes in my head and getting frustrated that I wasn’t allowed to change words, so eventually I took the hint,” he said. “Various plays and novels inspired me to be a writer, including Richard Yates’ ‘Revolutionary Road,’ Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal,’ everything Chekhov, and many Alice Munro stories.”
Growing up in Shelburne influenced Pierce’s writing in a big way. “Though I live in New York City, I’m drawn to small close-knit communities in greenish places where people are doing interesting things,” Pierce said. “I like when Vermonters see my plays and recognize something Vermont in them, whatever that means. I’m hugely proud of where I’m from.”
Pierce also writes musicals, most recently with composer John Kander who wrote the music for “Cabaret” and “Chicago.” Pierce and Kander wrote a show called “The Landing,” which will have its first production at the Vineyard Theatre in New York next fall starring David Hyde Pierce. “It’s been thrilling to work with David on our musical,” Pierce said. “David is a great example of someone who made a living doing what he loves and he’s always been very supportive of my writing.”
So what does the future hold for Greg Pierce? “I tend to think in terms of naturalistic two or three-character plays with one simple set and I’d like to tackle something a little more ambitious,” he said. “I’m thrilled that writing has turned into a career for me and I hope it stays that way. Playwrights never know, of course.”
Although he now lives in New York City’s West Village, Pierce makes an effort to come back to Vermont whenever he can. “My mom runs a bed and breakfast in Monkton, my brother Randal is a pianist/music director in Burlington, and my best friend from childhood, Ann Crawford, lives in Williston,” he said. “Every time I come back I think, ‘Um…why do I live in New York again?’”
Pierce cited Harrington’s (for the ham samples), the hill behind the post office where he used to go sledding, and the Game Room at the Inn at Shelburne Farms (where he was a waiter for three summers) as his favorite Shelburne hangouts. Pierce said if he were forced to stop writing, he might pursue a career as a baker.