Playwright Bo Wilson Talks Process, Origins, and His Latest Play Premiere ‘After December’ at VA Rep


I had the pleasure of sitting down with Bo Wilson, a prolific writer, voice actor, and playwright based in Richmond, Virginia. Bo has created over 30 plays, including The Charitable Sisterhood of the Second Trinity Victory Church, which was a hit at VA Rep’s Hanover Tavern, The Boatwright, which won two national awards and premiered at the Grand Rapids Civic Theater in Michigan in 2014 and The Bookbinder’s Tale, which was a finalist for the National Playwrights’ Conference at the O’Neill Theatre Center in 2016.

In addition to his impressive writing career, he’s a professional voice talent with credits including Sylvan Learning Centers, Mahatma Rice, and the Fallout video game series.

Today we talk the process, origins and his newest play, After December, which will be premiering this weekend at Virginia Repertory Theatre.

You trained in theater and do some theater every now and then. What drew you to writing plays?

I’ve written my whole life; as an illness, you know, I don’t know how not to do it. I was at Virginia Tech, then I went to the National Theater Institute, and there were all these talented people around me like, “Oh, that’s what acting looks like. Okay, I think I’ll try something I’m good at.” So, I started writing plays, mainly so I could keep hanging around all these cool people. I mean, I knew I loved theater, I loved the life, the environment, and the people.

And when I found out I wasn’t necessarily Anthony Hopkins, I backed off quickly and said, “Well, my comfort zone is writing. Let’s find out about playwriting,” and it turned out I had an affinity for it and it was a way to hang around. [laughs]

Do you sometimes see an actor and want to write for them?

Early on, I became kind of micro-obsessed with an idea and won a lot of prizes, flew all over the country for workshops and awards, but my work never got produced. So, about 12 years ago, I said, “If you write for Richmond people and use them to help develop it, they’d have a gig, you’d have a gig and everyone wins.” I was fortunate enough, I’d been working in Richmond Theatre for almost 20 years, stage managing for Theatre Virginia at the museum. I got to know Richmond’s A-list and started saying, “Hey Cathy Schaffner, I’ve got an idea for a play that’d be great for you or whomever,” and it turned out writing with an actor in mind really lubricated the process, made it much easier. I’ve been doing that ever since. I’ve written some for my wife Jan Guarino, some for several actors in town who I thought, “Yes, you, I want to write something for you,” and whether they end up doing it would be gravy, but it gets the thing written. Yeah, I’ve definitely done that, never with a celebrity actor in mind.

Is it hard to write something and then give it to someone else to bring it to life?

It can be and, in the case of Rick [Hammerly] and my newest play, it was particularly scary because I didn’t know him. Usually there’s a relationship in place and he was new to town and had just started running Virginia Rep and my play had already been selected. He said, “I think I’d like to direct it. How are you with that?” I didn’t have anyone else in mind, so I kind of jumped off the cliff with him and said, “Yeah, all right.” He is ferociously gifted – don’t let him hear me say that – but he is very deft and quick-minded. He’s super smart – don’t let him hear that either – but it’s been a very exciting and rewarding process, watching him get to know my play, me getting to know him, and being startled again and again and again with, “Wow, you really do get it!” There’s a moment in the play where the guy running the super collider facility is having a phenomenon explained by two physicists and they’re explaining it and then one of them says, “Oh, he gets it.” Then he says something else, and you’re right, he does get it. I had that feeling again and again that he gets it, he really gets this play.

Rick really cares about the project.

Yes and I say he inherited it. There are many universes in which the guy in his position walks in and says, “Ew, what is this?” But, he really embraced it and we talked a lot about it last summer, and I felt like he was enthusiastic, inventive, and all the things you’re hoping for from a director.

After December at VA Rep promo image
Richmond actress Bianca Bryan as December in After December, photo by Kimberly Frost

That’s amazing. At the time of this interview, we are a few days away from the opening night audience. Can you explain what After December is without giving it away?

I think it’s safe to call it a sci-fi thriller. I think it’s also safe to call it a look at the ways in which poetry and science are actually doing the same work—they’re both trying to describe the universe with radically different tools. And that’s what I think is so important—radically different tools. And that’s one of the things that happens in the play is that each side of that coin learns that the other side is kind of involved in the same thing.

Miles Davis—I wasn’t in the room, I don’t know if this happened, but I have heard that Miles Davis once said to Stephen Hawking, “You and me are both doing the same thing—we’re both trying to describe time.” I’m a Miles Davis freak, and that idea stayed with me for a long time, because I think I must have heard that quote 10 years ago and now we have a play. I didn’t write it because of that, but when I started writing it, I was like, “Yeah, that’s what this is about.”

 I love jazz. I listen to it all the time.

I could keep Kind Of Blue on a loop. I could just keep that album on a loop in my house.

I’ve been digging into his 70s stuff, so I kind of go through stages.

I’m more in like the Columbia years with Miles—the cleaner stuff.

This could be a whole other conversation over a few beers. [laughs] I was looking through your catalog of plays and I might be wrong, but I haven’t seen a lot of plays of yours set in the future.

Never but you know, this one is sort of set tomorrow, not 20 years in the future, but it’s the near future. I have a play that I’m very fond of called The Boatwright and it’s set in 2011, which the technology in that play is now completely obsolete—you’ve got stuff with cell phones that are plot points, and they ring odd, because like, “Oh, well, he wouldn’t have to do that. He could just do you know, just use the app.” And that is sort of when I decided, I need to be more careful about setting plays in the future, because technology these days moves—sorry, setting plays in the past and present—I need to be careful about, because right now technology is moving so fast that things get obsolete in a week.

I love how the idea the play was explained to me. It sounds like it starts a little grim and then an entity shows up and things get a little more hopeful. Do you think the pandemic had anything to do with your mindset when you wrote this? Did you write it before the pandemic?

No, it was my pandemic project. I wrote it mostly during the lockdown. I’m not sure that I would agree that it starts grim though. It starts in confusion. She shows up, they flip the switch and poof! She’s there. She doesn’t know who she is, where she’s from, or how she got there. The only thing she knows is that her name is December and she’s a poet.

At about the one-third mark, she does a poem about the forest and we see the trees and we see the light through the trees and we hear bird song. When she stops the poem, we go back to the lab and that makes the physicists very irritated because “magic” is not really part of their worldview. There are six characters, two of them are technicians and I use them in a very vaudeville kind of way. They carry a lot of the humor of the piece and they serve to bridge scenes. We move from a kind of confused interest and fascination into crisis because time starts misbehaving, skipping forward and back. It becomes clearer and clearer that it’s because she’s here, she’s not supposed to be here and the universe is getting grumpy about it. They can’t explain it because they are very logical thinkers. But they do start to get pretty convinced that they need to figure out how to get her back wherever she came from, otherwise their reality might just fold up and vanish. That’s a little grim.

That’s the thriller aspect of it is that I put a ticking clock on it by making December’s presence potentially fatal, not just to any one or two people, but to the universe. So they’ve got to get her home.

After December
The cast of After December premiering March 3rd at Virginia Repertory Theatre

It is going be really interesting to see how that comes together as a play.

I’m right there with you and I know what happens, but the visual component of it that is so astonishing to me is what the designers have done, what the sound designer is doing, what the projection designer is doing, the lighting – it is going to be a feast for the imagination and for the senses. I’ve never seen a play do with multimedia the things that we’re going to try to do.

It is going to be a wondrous experience for the audience. I didn’t write it thinking that way but I was interested in the idea of a poet whose poems happen surrounded by scientists who really don’t know what to do with her. That was the fundamental start of the play and it has grown and it’s blossomed to this sort of beautiful thing that I just can’t wait to see.

It’s a little bit about understanding – polar opposite mindsets, the poet and scientists and being open to it, being available to that understanding. The scientists have the problem of being very rigid in their thinking and at one point in the play December sort of scolds them for that with why do you think every question has to have an answer? Why can’t you just let it be there? Hopefully, in all good plays, each learns from the other and they really are involved in the same work for different reasons and with different tools. She’s very nervous about the things they’re doing like you’re slamming the universe into itself, she says at one point. They say basically to see what happens and she says like a child slamming toys to see what will happen. They resent that comparison, but it’s not entirely wrong.

This whole thing sounds a bit like how jazz breaks musical structure and kind of lets things go to see where it goes in an organic way.


That’s cool. Last question for you. Virginia Rep is putting this on and taking a chance by doing a more experimental work this season. That’s a bit of a new direction right?

Well, I think so. I mean they have been very supportive of me. This is the seventh play of mine over my career that they have world premiered. But with past plays it’s been pretty clear what it’s going to be; five southern women in a church basement trying to find out who stole baby Jesus or whatever, you know. [laughs] That is easy to sort of imagine and think, “Okay, yeah our audience will like that. It’s funny. It’s set in their world.”

This is a great leap of faith on their part. And I just posted on social media a couple of days ago the fact that for the record, before we know how it turns out, I want to say this is not only courageous of them but it’s also necessary. And I think all regional theaters need to trust that sometimes you’ve just got to take a leap because unless we want to keep doing the same 50 plays over and over again, we have to trust playwrights. We have to trust new work. We can’t be constantly shopping for the next hit. We have to be available to what happens and embrace it. And I feel that everyone over there has really embraced this play and is really behind it.

And it’s so gratifying because it’s a mystery to all of us what it’s going to be ultimately on opening night; you know, we’re still days away. [ed. note: It premieres tonight!] The idea that they are so invested in its realization, first of all just bringing it to life and in its success artistically, is success to me. I couldn’t be more grateful. And I also think that it’s entirely appropriate for a theater to do that; that it doesn’t happen as often as it should, but it’s what needs to keep happening everywhere as theaters need to put on new shows without certainty. You know, let’s go ahead and roll the dice.

It’s the beauty of live theater, right?

And that’s why people should come out because we are not quite sure what’s going to happen. The audience is not quite sure either. I don’t think anybody who comes to see this show is going to have expectations that line up with what their experience is going to be. I think they’re going to walk out of the theater going, “I had no idea,” and that’s perfect for me.

Follow Bo Wilson on Instagram @boswrite
Follow Virginia Repertory Theatre on Instagram @vareptheatre
Find more information on Virginia Repertory Theatre at

After December opens this weekend and runs through March 26th 2023.

When a particle collider deep beneath the earth’s surface malfunctions, a mysterious woman appears. She cannot say where she’s from or how she got here; she only knows that she is a poet. But when she gives voice to her strange and beautiful poems, reality itself begins to ripple and shift, becoming eerily unreliable. To the physicists, she’s an intriguing mystery; to the authorities, she’s a threat. Could both be right? Unravel the riddle of the poet in this exciting new play.

You can find out more information and buy tickets HERE!

Main photo by Kimberly Frost

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work:

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