Alum spotlight: Lucinda McDermott Piro (BFA ’83), Willa Piro (BFA ’16) and Dante Piro (BFA ’18)

collage of piros photos

Lucinda McDermott Piro 1983, BFA Performance

Willa Piro 2016, BFA in Costume Design

Dante Piro 2018, BFA Performance

Lucinda and both of her kids, Willa and Dante, received BFAs from the theatre department! Lucinda and Dante studied performance, while Willa studied costume design/technology.

Lucinda attended VCU in the early 80’s, and she remembers forming a creative cohort of students in the department who built each other up. She attributes a big part of her success at VCU to this group. “All of us are friends today and we recently had a Zoom reunion” (see the June issue of the newsletter where we covered virtual reunions to read more).

two actors on stage
Lucinda with fellow alum Chris Hoke in Carnival, VCU
v c u arts students performing on stage
Lucinda as Winnifred in Once Upon a Mattress, VCU

Lucinda’s daughter, Willa, started VCU in 2012. Willa says, “Coming from Southwest Virginia, I wasn’t ready for a big city and Richmond seemed like a great small town city. Plus, VCU is known for its arts program.” About the department, she reflects, “VCU taught me a professional language. How to speak with actors/directors/designers and how to communicate clearly with a costume shop and fabric stores. There was a level of professionalism [at VCU] that I see at all the theatres where I work. And for a state school, that’s really amazing.”

Her brother Dante started two years after Willa in 2014. He remembers the student run productions and how they kickstarted his process, “I learned that you can start creating on your own and there’s no better time than in college. I started writing sketches for the No Shame Variety Show, and they got a good response and that snowballed to where I am today.”

v c u arts students performing on stage
Nancy Drew at No Shame, Dante’s freshman year.

After graduating in ’83, Lucinda stayed a year in Richmond working for Theatre IV. Then she moved to LA, where she discovered, “This is not my home. I don’t have a support system here. Let me go to New York.” She quickly fell into a group that was creating cabarets, including former fellow alum Patty Noonan. That set her on the path of doing original work, a precursor to her pivotal touring solo show about Georgia O’Keeffe, O’Keeffe!

Lucinda in her solo show O’Keeffe!

While in NYC in the 80’s, Lucinda met her husband Jon Piro. She answered an ad in the Village Voice for a “Singer/front person for band”. She says, “I auditioned, and got the gig. We became friends and….we married in 1990 and just celebrated our 30th.” The couple decided to leave New York to raise their family in Virginia. Lucinda says of the kids growing up, “Dante was always putting on a show and Willa was always crafting things. Since John was from the Bronx, they’ve been going to New York to see Broadway shows since they were young.”

community theater production of Gospell
Willa and Dante in a Community Theatre production of Godspell

While at VCU, Willa spent her summers in intern programs. First at The Lost Colony in North Carolina, second at The Heritage Theatre in Charlottesville and finally at The Public in New York. That last stint proved provident—after getting her degree in 2016, she went back to The Public as Assistant Shop Manager. Her success continued, “I worked with some amazing designers on Broadway and in other theatres, while also working my way into TV/film.”

Production photo of Level 4 (TheatreLAB, 2019). Photo by Tom Topinka.

Dante’s trajectory was similar to his mom’s (well, without the LA detour). He penned several shows that were produced in Richmond, including The Verge, in which he was the only character (Jerry’s review) and Level 4, a fun trip inside a video game (Jerry’s review). Earlier this month, he received an Artsie (Richmond’s version of a Tony) for Original Play.

willa on set of soul survivor
Willa at Dante’s interactive show THE VERGE (a Firehouse Theatre production at the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, 2019)

Dante then moved to New York and had his original work Soul Survivor produced in February at Player’s Theatre. Willa did the costumes, and many VCU alums were found in the cast and crew. Broadway World covered the production with a great review. After a few solo months, Dante moved back to Radford before returning to Richmond, where he now lives with fellow theatre alum Austin Jeffrey Carlson.

Dante’s show SOUL SURVIVOR, Hiraeth Theatre in NYC 2020

Lucinda always attended every one of Willa and Dante’s shows at VCU. Both worked on The Rocky Horror Show in 2015. Dante was in the chorus and Willa designed the costumes. Willa has also designed some of Dante’s original shows.

v c u arts students performing on stage
Image from The Rocky Horror Show. Costume Design: Willa Piro.

Lucinda describes going back to see shows in Shafer Street as very nostalgic, “I’d be sitting beside ghosts…friendly ghosts.” Dante has a different perspective, “Mom was everywhere, literally. In Shafer Street they had photos of shows from the 80s and she was in three of them. Seeing her on the walls made me feel welcome.”

After Willa received the Richard Newdick Scholarship, she and Lucinda both wrote him thank you letters, but Lucinda found out, “Sadly, it was the same week he died, so he probably never got to read them.”  Willa appreciated the opportunities that the scholarship offered, “It allowed me to go to New York for the internship and helped me afford to go to SETC.”

three people holding drinks and smiling
Lucinda at Richard Newdick’s retirement party.
(from left) Paul Tomayko, Richard Newdick, and Lucinda McDermott

Lucinda has been working as a creative consultant for various organizations, writing and devising historically-based theatre. She also still performs with Jon as a duo under the name ‘Ball & Chain’. (Good to see they still have a sense of humor after thirty years!) Follow them on Facebook for upcoming (and socially distanced) events.

About her offspring, she muses, “Like so many other theatre pros, they’re dealing with the lack of opportunities due to COVID.  They inspire me now during the pandemic—to see how they are just going to find a way. It moves me and I’m so proud of them….Watching your kids begin their process as artists, see them perform or create, try things out is far more satisfying, frankly, than some of my own pursuits. That realization was surprising.”

jon, dante, and lucinda in front of rocky horror poster
Jon, Dante, and Lucinda in front of The Rocky Horror Show poster

In 2015 we had a reunion to honor Richard Newdick. Here’s the video that Jerry produced from that weekend.

Header image (clockwise from top left): Lucinda in All Men are Whores with Brad Greenquist and Mark Rodgers (VCU, director Dr. Parker); Willa and Dante backstage of The Rocky Horror Show (VCU, 2016); production photo of Level 4 (TheatreLAB, 2019), photo credit Tom Topinka; Dante, Lucinda, and Willa at SOUL SURVIVOR (Hiraeth Theatre Company, 2020); Willa at THE VERGE (2019); Dante at THE VERGE (2019).

Written by Liz Hopper (Emeritus Faculty) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the August 2020 Theatre Alumni Newsletter