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ozens and dozens of times a year, the Broadway musical Pippin is performed throughout America on stages in high school auditoriums, gymnasiums, elk lodges, YMCA’s, community recreation centers and outdoor theatres. The musical about a young prince on his search for meaning and significance hit Broadway in 1972 and is no doubt one of the most popular musicals to perform in the country, even today. But, there was one production of the play at the Fifteenth Street Meetinghouse in 1987 that was special. Roger Hirson ’43, the musical’s playwright, was in attendance, sitting unnoticed, unannounced on a bench in the back of the Meetinghouse during a Friends Seminary production of his play. “It was disappointing!” Roger recalled half-jokingly during a recent interview in New York City. “But, I’ve seen it so many times that it has made me a very hard critic. It was also the Meetinghouse—it did not provide the best space for the production.” Furthermore, Roger admitted that he had set his expectations very high for a performance of his creation in the very space that he spent so much time in as a student—a space that was so instrumental in shaping him as a person. “The silence of the Meetinghouse,” Roger said, “I have felt it throughout my life. I can be alone and I can be quiet. This stillness and peace is very helpful in my writing.” Roger estimated that he has worked as a dramatist or screenwriter on more than one hundred projects, which include musicals, plays, movies, and television series. Theatre, however, has always been his true love, he said.
John Rubinstein and Jill Clayburgh in the 1972 original Broadway production of Pippin, directed by Bob Fosse. Photo © Martha Swope.
Roger was also on the staff of The Stove, the School’s literary magazine at the time, and he recalled Rowse Wilcox and his other teachers encouraging him as a writer. Following graduation from Friends, Roger briefly attended Yale University before enlisting in the Army. After the war, Roger returned to Yale where he honed his skills as a storyteller and writer through a writing class led by Professor Richard Sewall. He was writing at least 500 words a day, everyday for that class, he said. After graduating from Yale, he worked as a newspaper reporter on Long Island. He later worked extensively as a writer for original television anthology series starting with The Philco Television Playhouse in 1947. Other early television projects included work on the Armstrong Circle Theatre, Playhouse 90, and The Alcoa Hour. Roger has also worked as the writer of many television movies,
"I drew on a lot of myself for the character of Pippin. Pippin is a Friends kid." His exposure to the industry of stage and screen started both at Friends and on the streets of New York City. Roger said he saw a lot of second acts of theatre performances through a technique called “backing in to shows.” Growing up on Washington Square, Roger said he would join the intermission crowds outside of nearby theatres and walk with them as they re-entered the theatre for the second act. At School, he recalled Mrs. Winterbottom chasing him and other boys around to join choir practices and other School productions. He remembered playing one of the wise men in the School’s annual Christmas pageant, and he remembered being part of a play about the founding of Friends during the School’s 150th anniversary celebration in 1936.
mini-series, and film adaptations, including A Christmas Carol (starring George C. Scott), The Old Man and the Sea, The Ted Kennedy Jr. Story, and A Woman Named Jackie. “I always felt like a worker, not an artist,” he said. “I always tried to just make a living.” Today, Roger is working on three theatre projects, and Pippin is in the works of being revived on Broadway in 2013. “I would like to do one more show before I die,” he said with a big grin. Another production of Pippin would be a celebration of his life’s work. “Spending ages 5 through 17 at Friends made me who I am,” Roger said. “And, I drew on a lot of myself for the character of Pippin. Pippin is a Friends kid.”
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