Artist Profile: Thornton Wilder

Thornton Wilder

Thornton Wilder is one of America’s most celebrated playwrights and one of its most overlooked. Wilder is often described as the Norman Rockwell of theatre. He is oft remembered for his portrayal of American life and values. Throughout his career, however, Wilder delved into cultures across the globe and throughout time. Wilder explored the essence of humanity and what it means to connect and survive in this world.

Family Life and Education

Thornton Wilder was born into a unique family in Madison, Wisconsin in 1897. His father was an editor-turned-diplomat and his mother was a remarkably accomplished woman who became the first female elected to public office in Hamden Connecticut in 1920. Due to his father’s job, the Wilder’s moved often living in China, California, and eventually settling in Connecticut. Wilder’s exposure to culture from an early age, as well as his mother’s love for the classics, helped inspire his own intellectual fervor.

Thornton Wilder pictured in his Yale College graduation photo, 1920. Image courtesy of the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

He began writing at a young age, and continued throughout his time at Oberlin, Yale and Princeton. Though his first loves were writing and theatre, Wilder felt it important to study outside of his comfort areas and he spent a year studying Archaeology in Rome. Fluent in German, French, and Spanish, with a smattering of other languages, Wilder translated and adapted dozens of works from authors such as Ibsen, Obey, and Sartre. His knowledge of language and classics and of humanity and history can be seen throughout all of Wilder’s works.

He had a deep love and respect for comedy, and farce in particular. He understood its importance in conveying difficult messages or examining more abstract topics in a way that the audience could digest. Writing a play about the end of the world is something best achieved through farce. His study of comedy and farce throughout the ages influenced and inspired his own creations. Wilder was often accused of borrowing too heavily from fellow artists, but his works fall into the grand theatrical tradition of drawing inspiration from dynamic sources. Today, many artists themselves draw from Wilder, as Paula Vogel said in her Foreward to The Skin of Our Teeth, “I have found…a realization that he was the writer I have borrowed from, not second hand, but third hand —because his work has so imbued the works of writers who have followed him.”

Wilder’s Plays

Playhouse Director Billy Miles in rehearsal with Thornton Wilder for their production of Our Town, 1939.

Wilder’s works were often featured at Berkshire Theatre Festival (originally Berkshire Playhouse). Wilder himself played the Stage Manager in the 1939 production of Our Town at the Berkshire Playhouse. The Skin of Our Teeth has been produced three times at Berkshire Theatre: 1948, 1966, and currently in 2019. Quoted as saying “the play mostly comes alive under conditions of crisis,” Wilder wrote The Skin of Our Teeth during World War II. With a deep love for his country, Wilder enlisted in both WWI and WWII. He saw first hand the darkness and chaos that humanity is capable of. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote of her experience seeing The Skin of Our Teeth in her column, “On Friday night we saw Thornton Wilder’s play: The Skin of Our Teeth. Everybody around me at the end of the first act was asking: ‘What on earth is it all about? It is amusing, but what does it mean?’ Gradually, as the play progressed, one began to understand that the whole panorama of human nature was being spread out before one.”

Claire Saunders, Harriet Harris and Marcus Gladney Jr. in BTG’s The Skin of Our Teeth, 2019. Photo by: Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware.

Wilder’s works delve beyond the surface of humanity. The philosophical, larger-than-life themes are navigated by starkly real and relatable characters. His use of magical-realism and unconventional staging techniques combine to create a raw picture of humanity. His work more closely resembles that of other avant-garde writers of the time such as Brecht or Beckett in its refusal to conform to expected theatrical conventions. By focusing on everyday moments and setting them in a magical or fantastical realm, he allows the audience space to process the emotions and themes before them. 

Unlike a true Brechtian or Beckett piece, however, the emotional side of Wilder’s works is more accessible. The heart of plays such as The Skin of Our Teeth and Our Town is family. While ghosts, the afterlife, dinosaurs, and a possible apocalypse are not something audiences can immediately relate to, family is. The works touch on the importance of human connection.  In a letter to his sister Isabelle, Wilder states, “We’re all People, before we’re anything else. People, even before we’re artists. The role of being a Person is sufficient to have lived and died for.” The day-to-day moments and the simple yet magical act of existing and surviving is paramount in Wilder’s plays. 

 

Now Playing:

The Skin of Our Teeth
by Thornton Wilder
directed by David Auburn

Now through August 3
at The Fitzpatrick Main Stage

Tickets: $66

Plan Your Visit

Read our suggestions on where to dine, and where to hang your hat.

Get Started
Did You Know?
Just like NPR, Berkshire Theatre Group depends on the generous giving of its members!
Join Today!
We believe the performing arts can transform a community.
Learn More
Of the 16,000 Berkshire County school children, we serve 13,000 through our BTG PLAYS! Year-Round Educational Programs.
Learn More
Theatre is the place where we go to understand what lies in the human heart.
About Us
BTG's buildings, on two campuses in Stockbridge and Pittsfield, are historic treasures.
Theatre Info
Berkshire Theatre Group believes that the creative arts encourage freedom of speech and debate.
Get Involved
"Out of need will come the way. Once the pandemic ebbs, whenever that is, there will be an incredible need to gather again." - Artistic Director, Kate Maguire
Join Today!
The theatre has existed from the time of the Greeks. We will go on.
Learn More
Join Our Mailing List

Receive the latest BTG News, Updates, Special Offers, and more right to your inbox.

Subscribe

News & Articles

From the Archives: Two Dead Crows

By: Scout Swonger (They/Them/Theirs) As the spookiest of days approaches and everyone is getting into the Halloween spirit with jack-o-lanterns, skeletons, and graves about the yard, we at BTG are … Read On

Have you heard about #GivingTuesday? Giving Tuesday reimagines a world built upon shared humanity and generosity. 🌍 Over the next couple of weeks we will share some of our favorite ways to participate in the movement and how you can be a part of Giving Tuesday by donating to Berkshire Theatre Group! How will you join the movement?
16 0
Voting is open for Broadway World’s 2022 Regional Awards! Follow the link and drop your vote for Berkshire Theatre Group! 📩
.
link in bio!
35 0
Our very own Kate Maguire hosted Governor-Elect Maura Healey as she met with Berkshire County Lawmakers at BTG's Colonial Theatre on Thursday!
.
link in bio for the full story!
80 2
On behalf of everyone at Berkshire Theatre Group, we want to say thank you to everyone, past and present, who has served our nation.
26 0
When the audience asks for it, you give an encore! 👏 Due to popular demand, we are extending our Theatre Pass deadline for ONE week! Hurry- this offer now ends November 18th!
.
link in bio!
14 0
Don’t forget to vote for Berkshire Theatre Group! ✔ BTG has been nominated for Awards in the categories of Live Music Venue, Live Theatre, and Performance Space. You can vote every day until November 14
.
link in bio!
19 0
🎵There is no doubt that this show will have you strolling down memory lane and tapping your toes to some of your favorite tunes! Grab your tickets today and join us for the final performance of the show, back where it all began at Berkshire Theatre Group’s Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA.
.
Link in bio!
20 0
🎸Whoooa! We’re halfway there! 🤘Don’t forget to grab your tickets to BonJourney for November 12th! This high-energy show has sold out the last two times it’s been in town and we can’t wait for another night of rock! 
.
Check the link in our bio for tickets!
16 0
⏰There are 6 days left to purchase your passes! Visit the link in our bio and grab yours today! 🙌🏼
20 0
⛷We are back with Warren Miller’s 73rd annual ski and snowboard film, “Daymaker”! Whether you’re joining us for the first time or coming back for a yearly tradition, the fun is guaranteed to be extreme! 🏂 How many Warren Miller films have you seen? Comment below!

Ticket link in bio!
16 0
BTG has won Best of the Berkshires for Best Live Theatre! 🎉
63 2
We are so excited to announce The Things I Cannot Change: A Staged Reading in Collaboration with the Roundabout Theatre Company! 

This staged reading will take place at the Unicorn on November 6 at 2pm. Tickets are free; a $10-$20 donation is suggested.
21 0
The holidays will be here before you know it! 👀🎄🎁

Back by popular demand after this summer’s hit “Smokey and Me: A Celebration of Smokey Robinson”, Charl Brown returns to the Colonial with The Doo Wop Project featuring stars from Broadway hits Jersey Boys, Motown: The Musical and A Bronx Tale! Ticket link in bio! 
.
.
.
#theatre #broadway #doowop #holiday #intheberkshires #charlbrown
23 2
Your favorite annual film tradition is back, this November 3 at the Colonial! ❄️ Warren Miller's 73rd annual ski and snowboard film DAYMAKER will take you on a journey to peaks that replace the mountains in your mind with ones that free your mind. 

Ticket link in bio!
14 0
It's Time To Vote! ✨The Rural Intelligence Voting Round is now LIVE! BTG has been nominated for Awards in Arts Organization, Live Music Venue, Live Theatre and Performance Space.

 You can vote every day until November 14! Link in bio 🗳
21 0
Join us for the annual celebration that crosses generations and connects us to the comforting constant of snow with Warren Miller’s 73rd annual ski and snowboard film, Daymaker, November 3 at the Colonial! ❄️☀️⛷🏂

More info and ticket link in bio!
19 0
Announcing a limited time offer: A Three Show Theatre Pass for $120! Hurry– this offer ends November 11!link in bio! 

📷: @ekrwcreative
25 0
This error message is only visible to WordPress admins
Error: Connected account for the user berkshiretheatregroup does not have permission to use this feed type.
Follow Us