Meet the Playwright: Paul Donnelly

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Paul Donnelly (right) wrote the play we’ll be reading tonight, Falling Off the Edge.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Brooklyn, NY.  Grew up and spent most of my life in Washington, DC and the Virginia suburbs.  Spent eight years in Atlanta and just relocated to Honolulu in June with my husband, Frank Wong, our two dogs and three cats.

I’ve been writing plays since the snazziest technology available was an IBM Selectric.  The high points have been two Helen Hayes Award nominations, seeing an actor in one of those shows actually win a Helen Hayes Award, and my association with Working Title Playwrights.

Please share in your own words a little about the play we’ll be seeing.
This play has been a real journey for me as well as for Carly, Belinda, and Matt. {SPOILER ALERT} There exist drafts in which Carly accepts the proposal.  There is a one act that depicts the death of Matt’s parents exactly as he describes it. I am clearly drawn to the conventions of the rom-com, but I had to follow Carly where she led me and to honor her truth.  I think I finally have.

What inspired you to write this play?
Almost everything I write starts from a character who intrigues or inspires me. Or who just moves into my head and just won’t leave me alone until I tell her or his story.

What is the importance of staged readings in your own creative process and the development of your play?
Staged readings and the rehearsals for them give me the opportunity to hear for myself what isn’t working, what’s missing, and what’s just too much.  This one has been an especial gift for the remarkable cast and especially reinforcing as Carolyn Cook seemed to find everything I had hoped I’d put in the script.

What do you hope to get out of this Bare Essentials reading process?
In addition to the things I can only learn about a script from hearing it read, I’m honored to be a part of the Bare Essentials series, having been a fan for years. I’m pleased that a slightly wider audience will see this play, every scene of which has been read in a Working Title Playwrights Monday Night Critique Session.

What has your experience with this reading been so far? How is this experience, now that you’ve relocated, different from previous readings of your works around town?
Y’know, other than not being able to be in the house for the reading itself, this hasn’t been that different.  I was fortunate to be able to be Skyped into the rehearsal so I have felt very present and engaged.  This cast is so extraordinary that there were moments in the last scene that their work in the rehearsal moved me so much it didn’t feel like I was hearing something I had written.  Which is absolutely the goal! That can be the gift of writing for the theater, when actors take my typing and make so much more of it.

Where else can we see your work, recently, currently or in the near future?
Working Title did a really lovely First Light reading of [Shakespeare reference] a little over a year ago.  That script was a less far along and I learned a great deal from the questions people asked in the discussion afterward.  Audiences aren’t very helpful when they offer solutions, but they are always right when they are confused or bored.
I am delighted to say that Onion Man Productions will be producing Falling Off the Edge in January and that I hope to be back in Atlanta for at least part of the run.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
I once danced with Kathleen Turner.

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Falling Off the Edge will be read at the West End Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, August 9 at 7:30pm. Directed by Carolyn Cook. All readings are free and open to the public, donations gladly accepted.

Festival Bare Essentials readings are produced in partnership with Working Title Playwrights, and playwrights whose work is featured in a Festival Bare Essentials reading also receive a complimentary one-year membership to Working Title Playwrights.