For better or for worse, Joyce Piven is most famous for being Jeremy’s mom. She got what has to have been the widest media exposure of her life when she showed up at the 2005 Emmy Awards as her actor son’s “date,” to watch him win a statuette for playing slippery talent rep Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage.
But Piven mere is much more than maternal arm candy. An actor in her own right, she was an original member of Playwrights Theatre Club, the legendary ensemble whose 1953 founding foreshadowed both the off-Loop theater movement and Chicago-style improvisation. In the early 1970s she and her husband, Byrne, started the Piven Theatre Workshop, where they developed and taught an approach that draws heavily on their studies with another improv matriarch, the hugely influential theater-games theorist Viola Spolin. Along with Jeremy and his sister—actor/director Shira Piven—early members of PTW’s Young People’s Company included John, Joan, and Ann Cusack.
Now Piven has put what she’s learned over the last six decades into a book. Written with Susan Applebaum, In the Studio With Joyce Piven (Methuen) collects and contextualizes the activities that structure PTW workshops. Here, in edited form, is what she had to say about it during a recent interview.