LOS ANGELES, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- When PBS premieres "Stage on Screen: The Top Dog Diaries" Thursday, viewers will get something of a walking tour of the making of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play -- Susan-Lori Parks' "Topdog/Underdog."
The play is about two black brothers -- Booth and Lincoln -- who share an apartment and struggle to get along. Lincoln has a job as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator at an arcade where the attraction permits customers to re-enact John Wilkes Booth's assassination of the 16th president.
Before "Topdog/Underdog" was a hit on Broadway, it was a hit off-Broadway. And before that, Parks already won acclaim for writing about the experiences of black people in a white-oriented society -- winning two Obies, a MacArthur "Genius" award and a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her 1999 play, "In the Blood."
Parks wrote the screenplay for Spike Lee's 1996 movie "Girl Six," about an aspiring New York actress trying to cope with the treatment of women in the movie industry who becomes so desperate for money that she takes a job as a phone-sex operator. She also heads the playwriting program at California Institute of the Arts in Southern California.
The development of "Topdog/Underdog" occurred just as documentary filmmaker Oren Jacoby decided that Parks would be an interesting subject to follow -- and he had the good fortune to catch some remarkable moments on film, including rehearsals involving director George C. Wolfe and actors Don Cheadle and Jeffrey Wright.
"Oren kept saying, 'How are we going to end this?'," said Parks in an interview with United Press International. She said she assured Jacoby that they would "think of something."
Little did they know. The documentary climaxes with the play's opening night on Broadway, and ends with news that Parks had become the first black women ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
In the film, Parks wonders aloud how she might change after winning the prestigious prize. Several months later, she said the answer, so far, is -- not much.
"So far it feels the same," she said. "Yes, the Pulitzer could go to my head and I could quit my job at Cal Arts, dye my hair platinum blonde and only take meetings with major stars."
But Parks said none of that interests her.
"When I came back from New York, the Cal Arts community was real supportive," she said. "A lot of them were like, oh you're leaving now, you're quitting. Some of them were like, now you're just going to write blockbuster movies and make a gazillion dollars. But I haven't changed so far. I'm just more of the same."
In some ways, the biggest kick for Parks was watching audiences watch her play, and make it a hit.
"Audiences were so diverse," she said. "There were hip-hop kids sitting next to hardcore older Broadway fans who saw everything that Arthur Miller ever wrote. It was so cool to see different ethnic groups, ages."
The way Parks saw it, her play meant different things to different people.
"Everybody has a light, and this play says remember your own light," she said.
In the PBS documentary, Parks is clearly enjoying the ride. Even though she had already been acknowledged for her work in significant way, she said she was far from used to success.
"I felt like a kid all the way through," she said. "Everything was new. So there wasn't the opportunity to have that 'been there done that' attitude."
Parks is currently working on an adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel "Paradise" for Oprah Winfrey's film company and an original musical called "Hoopz" -- based on the Harlem Globetrotters -- for Disney. Her first novel, "Getting Mother's Body," is scheduled to be published by Random House next year.
"Stage on Screen: The Top Dog Diaries" will be repeated several times on PBS stations over the next few weeks. Check local program schedules.