What is it like growing up with super cool parents like legends, Joyce and Byrne Piven? Or having John Cusack come over to your house after school? And what is it like directing your own brother in a youth production and then he becomes a household name? These were some of the questions that I asked of the amazing Shira Piven .
Shira is proud to present her first feature film, “Fully Loaded.” and she was so excited to talk about it with me. She described the movie as an “edgy, dark comedy” The movie originally started as a play that was written by the two talented stars of the movie, Paula Killen and Lisa Orkin. “It resulted in an improvisational piece written by the two women.” Bravo for this, the lead actresses are not your typical twenty something Hollywood stars . Shira said these women were “beautiful, but not Hollywood homogenized” We both agreed that there was a lack of leading roles for women in their forties through sixties.
Shira said it was very important to maintain the Chicago feel to the film . Paula and Lisa are both from Chicago . She feels strongly about the ensemble approach to theatre and calls it the “heart of the work” Piven Theatre Workshop is well known for its ‘story-telling approach to theatre.” It is also known for its illustrious list of alumni including Kate Walsh of “Private Practice” Patricia Arquette, John and Joan Cusack, Jami Gertz, and of course Shira’s own brother, Jeremy. But she maintains that “the workshop’s intention wasn’t to make actors household names,” She has also directed her mother and father on stage as well. In fact, the “King Lear” that she directed her father in, was sadly his last production before his death. She spoke of her father very fondly. When we were talking about the Chicago theatre scene and it’s wealth of talent she said that it is about “good training and good methods of work.” She described “the workshop” as a beautiful , communal community that is very collaborative.” She thinks that acting is full of narcissism and that “the workshop” balances that.
We discovered that we had many similarities . We both went on stage at an early age at church. We both love Tennessee Williams . except as Shira says, “it depends on her mood.” Mostly her favorite playwrights are Shakespeare, of course, Ionesco, and Beckett. Shira considers herself mostly a theatre director and has directed in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC, as well as Chicago. We also share another love, music. I told her about my late father and my singing with him at a family reunion . She loved that. She said that she loves music and is in the middle of a music renaissance . Shira plays the guitar and Jeremy is a mean drummer. She also talked passionately about her next project, a documentary about a dear friend who was a pioneer in the punk rock movement. Shira is currently working on this project.
She also talked fondly about her memories about growing up in an artistic family. Her father directed her at the age of four in a Purim play. She also said that it was sometimes difficult to maintain a delicate balance in such a creative household. After all her parents didn’t hold nine to five jobs. “There were different priorities. Everyone was more involved in creative work , rather something as mundane as making sure the car worked” Being raised in a Jewish family , I asked her what effect this had on her family and professional life. She said that they were mostly into Jewish culture , not so much the religious aspect. They would have seders and also attend the High Holy Days. She also would choose intellectual Jewish theatre pieces to highlight that culture. Surprisingly though, the Pivens wouldn’t put that much into Purim and Halloween. After all, costumes were part of their every day life. Today Shira enjoys celebrating Halloween with her own kids.
If you want to see a real film , about real women come to the Evanston Arts Center on March 10 for a screening of this unusual movie. Following the film , will be a reception at the Piven theatre to honor this incredible director. For ticket information call the box office at 847-866-8049. And a special thanks to Shira Piven, Leslie Brown, and the people at Talking Pictures Film Festival.