By Kevin Hopps
Copyright © 2020 Gia On The Move
According to Mark Wilding, the three main things you must have to succeed, in addition to talent, are: “A persistence, a learning curve, and a thick skin.” Clearly, all were instrumental to Wilding’s success as a writer and led to his writing the play Our Man in Santiago, which will open soon at Theatre West.
“I really admire actors,” Wilding says, referring to their persistence and perseverance. “They get knocked down, but keep coming back, going on casting call after casting call, suffering rejection after rejection, until, finally, they get their chance, they get that part they were trying out for.”
Passion is another thing that Wilding thinks could be added to his what you need to succeed list. His own passion for writing started blossoming when he was attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Although he was majoring in economics, he was also writing, usually a humor column, for the school’s paper, The Daily Collegian. “I took a couple of journalism classes,” Wilding says. “Then, in my senior year, I interned for a local newspaper. After college, my first job was as a sports editor at a weekly paper just outside Atlanta.”
In the early 80s, while in his late twenties, Wilding decided he wanted to write for television or the movies. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any connections in the business. But still… he persisted. “I had saved a little money,” says Wilding, explaining that it wasn’t that much money and that he had no job prospects. Nevertheless, he moved to Los Angeles. “For a while, I slept on the floor, on a mattress that a friend’s dad gave me.”
While working as an assistant buyer for department stores, Wilding continued writing, not journalism, but the currency of the hopeful Hollywood scribe: spec scripts. He took a UCLA Extension class in screenwriting. “I wrote a couple of bad movie scripts,” he says. He also became a member of Theatre West, workshopping short scenes to some plays he was attempting to write.
Finally, in the early 90s, one play he wrote, A Company Man, a dark comedy about “a Fortune 500 man on the run,” won a festival prize and was produced in Santa Rosa, and then later in Los Angeles at Actors Alley.
Fortuitously, a Disney executive happened to see Wilding’s play and offered to help set up some interviews; open a few doors for him. But even though doors open, you still have to be ready. “A lot of people often get an opportunity, but don’t take their shot, they’re not ready,” says Wilding. He, however, was ready. “I had my play and a Seinfeld spec.”
Wilding may tell you that a lot of success is “luck and happenstance,” but he had practiced what he now preaches: he had persisted, he had been learning his craft, and his skin had thickened. “On my second interview, I got my first television writing job,” Wilding says. And, the rest, as they say, was history.
Since that fateful day, Wilding has written and produced many television shows, including Ellen, Charmed, Grey’s Anatomy, and Scandal. Currently, he’s one of the executive producers on Good Girls.
In fact, it was during a hiatus of Good Girls that Wilding decided to write another play. Back in high school, he had read a Harper’s Magazine article written by Gabriela Garcia Marquez. It so intrigued the young Wilding that he made a copy and kept it. Now, many years later, he had decided to write a play based on the article. “I first thought it could be a movie,” Wilding says. “But I wanted to see it up on its feet. With plays, as with TV, you’re more likely to get to see what you write.”
The article was about a comically flawed and failed coup attempt by the U.S. government to overthrow the president of Chile in the early 70s. Wilding’s play, a farce inspired by the article, takes place a few years after the real events and imagines the CIA bringing in a clueless agent to take yet another shot at a coup. “Yes, there’s an understated theme or message,” Wilding answers when asked about one. “I’d say that it’s: No good deed goes unpunished.” Wilding workshopped the play at Theatre West.
“I started with about twenty pages. There was no outline. I knew a few of the tent pole scenes. I knew what I wanted to do. I had a vague idea of the ending. But there were dozens of drafts. I was getting a lot of good notes from people.”
Finally finished, and after a reading with favorable responses, Our Man in Santiago is about to be performed at Theatre West in front of an audience (Previewing March 11 & 12; Running March 13 through April 5). And now that Good Girls is back from hiatus, Wilding is back working at Universal Studios, just down the street from Theatre West, finding time to pop in during his lunch breaks, to catch up with the play’s director, Charlie Mount, and to watch rehearsals.
“I admit, with the play opening in March, there’s some nervousness on my part. First, there are the reviews. What is it someone said about critics: ‘They go in after the battle and shoot the wounded’? And, of course, I’ll go to the play, stand in the back, mouthing every single line. A habit, which my wife keeps telling me I have to stop doing. And I’m sure some of my friends will come. I’ll be in the theatre; I’ll see their reactions. I mean, if they are in the privacy of their own living rooms and they hate something I wrote for Scandal or Good Girls, I’d never know it. But this… this will be different.”
Photo (above) by Charlie Mount: The cast of ‘Our Man in Santiago’ – Nick McDow Musleh, Steve Nevil, Presciliana Esparolini, Gerge Tovar and Michael Van Duzer
Copyright © 2020 Gia On The Move
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