By Matt Levy
27-year-old New York City playwright Anthony J. Piccione is unflappable. While most in the theater world speculate and fret on the medium’s future amidst a pandemic, others like Piccione have been envisioning an action-packed future. Anthony, ever the upstart, has quite a few ambitious projects in the works but as soon as audiences can return to plush seats in dimly lit rooms, he already has his new masterpiece One Empire, Under God ready for its world premiere.
This can-do spirit inspired Hi! Drama theater critic Jan Ewing who said of Piccione, “It’s his kind of persistence that gives me hope for the future of live theater.”
One Empire, Under God, Anthony’s second full-length drama to be produced in NYC is a two-act, dystopian political drama with elements of science-fiction, and explores themes of Christian extremism, American imperialism & populist demagoguery. Piccione said, “Politicians won’t save us. It’s up to us, as people, to keep speaking loudly, and to force real change into becoming reality.” This play is a wonderful vehicle for that. Actor and producer Gemia Foo added, “Anthony’s writing makes audiences reflect on and rethink current affairs.”
The show is set to be directed by long-time Piccione collaborator Andres Gallardo Bustillo. Piccione raved, “Andres is one of the most passionate and creative directors I’ve worked with, and I couldn’t be more excited to see his ideas come to life in a future production of One Empire, Under God.”
On July 4, the production team symbolically launched their fundraising campaign on Patreon and they will be presenting a virtual reading exclusively for their patrons on Zoom on October 16.
Not too shabby for Piccione who got his start at seven-years-old writing self proclaimed, “bad Star Wars fan fiction.”
These days, in addition to his upcoming play, Anthony, a Rochester native who currently calls Astoria home, has been hosting his podcast Indie Art Today since May, featuring guest artists from the theatre and film world, and producing the Talking It Out, a virtual short play festival to raise awareness for mental health with performances on November 21, March 20 and July 17.
This unbridled work ethic is derived from the joy Anthony gets from writing and delivering his materials to an audience. He said, “True happiness is a rare feeling, but without a doubt, the closest I come to feeling happy, is when I see my creative work being fully realized and appreciated.” This passion began with a love of the theater that blossomed his sophomore year of high school in Connecticut.
To understand Anthony’s sophomore year though, we must travel first to his life as a freshman.
Piccione, diagnosed with anxiety, mood and autism spectrum disorders, attended a technology-themed magnet school. It was there he experienced severe bullying being beaten with a belt that led him to feeling more isolated than he ever had in his young life.
Anthony was hospitalized for a week after experiencing suicidal thoughts, and hit rock bottom emotionally. Fortunately, he had his loving parents to help him get through this troubling period in life, referring to his mother Sarah Sortino as “the hardest, working, most dedicated mother I could ever ask for,”
Soon after, Piccione transferred to Windsor High. While still traumatized and isolated, he gradually started to come out of his shell by auditioning for the drama club.
He recalls the thrill of going onstage and becoming a character who wasn’t himself. Piccione took it all in completely immersing himself taking private acting lessons and performing in various community theatre productions in Connecticut.
Still, Piccione claims he didn’t fit in with any social clique, including many of the theatre kids. In fact, for years after high school, Anthony struggled with being able to get more than a few words out in a conversation — let alone initiate one — without fear of saying the wrong thing or being mocked. The only upside to this fear is it gave Piccione plenty of creative inspiration to work with, claiming that he might not be writing now, if he didn’t go through such a difficult period in his life.
Without this hardship that made him who he is, he certainly wouldn’t be receiving kind words from Smith Scripts founder Paul Smith who said, “When you read a script by Anthony, you are struck by the seamless joining of the relevant, the provocative, the emotional and the sheer art of good storytelling. His works stand out on a crowded stage and leave the reader and the viewer with questions, inspiration and satisfaction.”
After finding his niche in acting, Anthony headed to Eastern Connecticut State University. While in a playwriting class, he had an epiphany. Piccione decided he would pursue his first love of creative writing, continuing to work in the theatre world writing for the stage. He found inspiration in the works of playwrights varying from Samuel Beckett, Sarah Kane and Tony Kushner as well as non-theater luminaries such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Charlie Kaufman and Christopher Nolan.
I asked Anthony if he had a favorite story and he coyly replied, “I do. The ones I write and produce.”
He received his BA in Theatre, garnering minors in Writing and Film. Anthony graduated in May 2016 and moved to NYC in September of that year.
Once he arrived on the scene, Anthony made a splash right away having a short play produced at Manhattan Repertory Theatre. He still remembers the pride he felt having a play on a legitimate stage in New York, even if not too many people saw it. Anthony likes to think that play set off his string of successes that followed like his first full length play A Therapy Session with Myself’s long-standing run at the Kraine Theater from May 2019 — March 2020 which ended prematurely due to the pandemic.
That brings us to the present.
At the moment, Anthony lives in an Astoria, Queens apartment he shares with housemates. At this point, he’s lived in every borough in New York except Staten Island, and the only time he hasn’t been in a shared living situation is when he subletted Andres Gallardo Bustillo’s studio in Harlem for one month, while he was in-between apartments and Andres was working in Philadelphia. Piccione pointed out, “If you have dreams, you need to be willing to make a few sacrifices to pursue them. Unless you have a rich spouse or parents, but I have neither.”
While quarantined, Anthony has been hard at work at the aforementioned One Empire, Under God, his podcast and his virtual play festival. He’s also already completed a first draft of a separate, under wraps full-length drama, is adapting A Therapy Session with Myself into a screenplay, in pre-production of a new short film that he wrote, and in the early stages of writing his debut novel.
All of these projects are greatly anticipated. Actress Louise Heller is especially excited saying, “I consider Anthony an important new voice in theater, bringing political and personal urgency to issues of human rights, health, and mental illness.”
When asked where he sees himself in five years, Anthony replied, “I’d like to say that after my next play, I’ll have won a Tony, Pulitzer, and maybe even a MacArthur Grant. Realistically speaking, though, I’m aware there are consequences for not being commercially inclined as a writer.”
Piccione smiled and said, “As long as I can do projects like what I’ve been doing, and what I’ve described, then I think I’ll be okay.”
He then added, “As okay as someone with an anxiety disorder can be, anyway.”
For someone so anxious, he sure is unflappable.
To learn more about One Empire, Under God, how to contribute to its fundraising campaign to bring the play to an Off-Broadway stage (when theaters reopen) and how to RSVP to the Zoom reading, please visit here.
For a sample of Anthony’s favorite culture he’s consumed, look no further:
Theater: The Vengeance Room by Michael Hagins, Hazelwood Jr. High by Rob Urbinati, and Faculty Portrait by Sean David DeMers
Film: Synecdoche, New York, Requiem for a Dream, American History X
Music: Jon Hopkins, Brian Eno & Sigur Ros. His favorite song of all time is Radiohead’s No Surprises
Podcasts/Webshows: Secular Talk, the Humanist Report, Rising with Krystal & Saagar. He was also featured on the Made Visible Podcast, Radio Free Brooklyn, and was recently interviewed for an upcoming episode of Radically Unstuck