Playwright and Wilkes Faculty Member Bonnie Culver Premiers “A Ticket to the Circus”

by Kelly Clisham
poster for a ticket to the circus featuring anne archer

The Creative Center for the Arts will feature the world premiere of “A Ticket to the Circus” by playwright Bonnie Culver. Directed by Michelle Danner and starring Anne Archer, the one-woman show is based on the memoir of the same name by Norris Church Mailer, the sixth and last wife of writer Norman Mailer. The exclusive virtual performance will run online Thursday through Sunday from June 1 through June 25 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. EST.

Culver co-founded Wilkes University’s Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing along with J. Michael Lennon, Norman Mailer’s biographer. She served as the program’s director until 2020, and now mentors students in the playwriting track. In her 30 years at Wilkes, she also served as a faculty member in the English department and a former college dean.

Culver has had more than 20 plays produced by regional theatres and equity companies across the country. Her critically acclaimed play “Sniper” had a successful Off-Broadway run in 2005 and was produced last year by Theatre Intime at Princeton University. Culver’s screenplays “Sniper,” “Group S.O.S.” and “Watchfires” were Sundance Film Development Program finalists and her screenplay “Rainbow Man” was optioned by Marlee Matlin’s film company, Solo One Productions.

The Mailers both have Wilkes connections as well. Pulitzer Prize-winner Norman Mailer was the first advisory board member to offer guidance on the creative writing program’s curriculum. He also started the Norris Church Mailer scholarship in honor of his wife. Each summer from 2006 until her death in 2010, Norris Mailer visited campus to award the scholarship in person. “Norris was a good friend of mine,” says Culver. “She was a good friend of Wilkes.”

“A Ticket to the Circus” delves into the Mailers’ great love — and challenges. The story spans Norris Church Mailer’s childhood in Arkansas, where she was named Little Miss Little Rock, the couple’s 33-year marriage and Norman Mailer’s heartbreaking death. Throughout the ups and downs, the author’s wit shines through. “You read her memoir and it’s so her. It’s funny. It’s charming,” says Culver.

Following a piece Culver wrote for the “Mailer Review,” Norris Church Mailer’s sons encouraged her to adapt their mother’s memoir for the stage. “When they suggested it, it was the right thing to do,” says Culver. The playwright’s been developing the script since 2017. The first stage adaptation of the 400-page memoir ran more than three hours. “I couldn’t leave out any stories,” says Culver.

The current version, at 93 minutes, focuses primarily on the Mailers’ relationship, with Archer bringing tales of the tumultuous love story to life. “She captures her spiritualism and her grace and her wit,” says Culver.

The show was in final rehearsals in March of 2020, before COVID shut down live performances. Following this limited virtual run, the production team hopes to bring Norris Church Mailer’s story to life in person. In the meantime, audiences can enjoy “A Ticket to the Circus” online.

Visit for more information and online ticket purchase.

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