Reading through Laura Pedersen’s list of accomplishments, it’s hard to believe she’s one person and not a team. Her first full-length play, The Brightness of Heaven, first staged at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre in 2012, was a finalist in several very competitive competitions and will be performed Thursday, October 16 through Sunday, December 14 at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre. While her career is now centered on the stage, Laura began on Wall Street. Her first book, Play Money (1991), about being the youngest trader on the floor of the American Stock Exchange, became a bestseller, and she appeared on CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Primetime Live, David Letterman, and other television programs.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton honored her as one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans. A columnist for the New York Times from 1995 to 2002, she also hosted her own show on the Oxygen Channel from 1999 to 2002. Her best-selling and award-winning books include Beginner’s Luck, Heart’s Desire, The Big Shuffle, and Best Bet.
Her one-act play A Dozen Perfect Moments was performed as part of the 2012 Midtown International Theatre Festival at the June Havoc Theatre. The play was also a winner of the Doc Jim Martin Playwright Competition and a semi-finalist in the Drury University One-Act Playwriting Competition. Other stage works include the one-act play Living Arrangements and the full-length musical This Will All Be Yours (music and lyrics by Charles Bloom).
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
In middle school I won an essay contest on the subject of why Theodore Roosevelt was a great American. I entered because the prize was $75 and I wanted the money to put toward a 10-speed bicycle that I could ride across the Peace Bridge to the thoroughbred race track in Fort Erie, Canada. Commerce clearly drives lots of interesting discoveries about ourselves.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
I’m able to express my opinions and give a humorous take on subjects that are of interest to me. When I did this in school I ended up in detention or else suspended. If I were to do this in the Middle East I’d probably wind up in jail.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I wrote about a lot of subjects in which I had no interest. I tried to write every day. I read what other people were writing and went to see as many plays as possible.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
I’m a gal with a blonde ponytail who went to Wall Street at age 18, so I learned not to worry about what people say about me a long time ago. The bestselling author Christopher Hitchens proclaimed that “women aren’t funny” in a Vanity Fair essay. A week ago I did an hour of comedy as part of the Larkin Square Author Series in downtown Buffalo, NY. People laughed straight through so maybe they were amused by my jeans and shirt.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
I regularly change my career to keep life interesting. A brief progression: Paper Girl, Camp Counselor, Short-Order Cook, Party Magician, Track Junky, Blackjack Card Counter, Wall Street Trader, Stand-Up Comedian, Author, New York Times Columnist, TV Show Host, Playwright.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
Computers and social media have drastically changed the newspaper and publishing industries. It’s a whole different world than when I started and you typed a manuscript, mailed it to agents, got published, and went on a book tour.
That said, the biggest shift in my career was going from having a seat on the stock exchange to being a full-time writer. I always wanted to write but didn’t have any desire to go the La Bohème starving artist route. Having grown up in the Rust Belt during the 1970s, I was already familiar with not having heat in the winter and eating beans out of a can.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
When I started on Wall Street I was young, female, broke, and had no connections. When I began submitting my writing I was still young and female and without connections, but no longer broke, so that was a step up.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
I’m resilient. Not because I’m tough, but because I know a lot about math, specifically probability. The more attempts you make the more hits (and losses) you rack up. Rejections, turndowns, passovers — throw ‘em on the fire. I forgot to mention I was Joan Rivers’ personal assistant. She liked to say that if you stand out in the rain long enough you’ll eventually get struck by lightning.
Rejection is of course different from constructive criticism and editing, and those last two can be very useful tools. I love having early readers for my work whose opinions I value.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m excited about having The Brightness of Heaven play at the Cherry Lane Theatre this fall. The Cherry Lane has a wonderful history of supporting women’s work along with offering women wonderful opportunities on the stage and behind the scenes in a business that is still dominated by men.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
The short answer is that you have to write and try to get published or staged. The long answers about process, agents, and writer’s block I elaborated on my website.
For more information on The Brightness of Heaven and to purchase tickets, go to the website.