(above) Mary with extraordinary son Pace

Mary Donnet Johnson grew up in Vermont, earned a B.A. at Sarah Lawrence College, and spent a decade in New York City acting professionally in movies, television, radio, opera, and off-Broadway. During Mary’s time in New York she co-founded “Life Adventures Onstage,” with Kathleen Held and (McArthur Fellow) William Reale, to reach at-risk inner-city children and young students with disabilities by creating original scripts from the children’s real-life stories and producing weekly mini plays.  Mary was also active in many new play readings while in New York.

Mary now lives in Tennessee and writes plays.  Her first play, Twinkle: A One-Act Play for Three Actors, Two Aerialists, a Cellist and Chorus, was a semi-finalist in the National Playwrights Conference of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in 2014.  In 2016, Mary won a spot in the Kenyon Playwrights’ Institute and her ensemble piece, Passage, which she developed there, debuted in the Nashville Sideshow Fringe Festival.  Early in 2017, Mary wrote, produced, and directed her piece about love called Wrathin Nashville’s Ten-Minute PlayGround at the Darkhorse Theater.  Her short play, Sin Cycle, was a finalist for the Kentucky Women Writers’ 2017 Biennial Prize for playwrighting, judged by Pulitzer Prize winner Martyna Majok.  Circular Emotion was featured in the 2018 Women’s Work Festival of TN Women’s Theater Project.  Last Rights debuted in the 2019 She/Her/Hers Festival with Nashville Story Garden.  Her full-length comic drama, Shanktown is being given a staged reading at Playhouse on the Square in Memphis in December, 2020, and a short play, Mirror Me is set for publication in the Ponder Review also in 2020. 

Well-known as an enthusiastic collaborator, Mary has organized an ever-widening group of local actors, directors, and playwrights to meet frequently for new-play readings (now of necessity on Zoom), forging important connections between members of the theater community while providing vital support, essential feedback, and a whole lot of fun.  She is a regular workshop contributor to the Nashville Story Garden and Pipeline Collective’s Salon in conjunction with Studio Tenn in Franklin, TN.  During this COVID-19 era, Mary has doubled down on engaging a diversity of fellow theater practitioners to act as sounding boards, readers, and dramaturgs as she has continued to create new work in this time of isolation.  She has intentionally reached out to artists of different backgrounds, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and viewpoints – which has yielded many moments of joyful discovery for the participants and greatly enhanced the work.

Her commissioned works include To Know You for the Maryville College Bicentennial which had its world premiere to sold-out crowds at the Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville, TN, on November 1, 2019.  Her newest play, Party of Twelvewritten in comedic magical realism style to illuminate twelve inspiring women from Rutherford County, TN, history, was commissioned by the Rutherford County Arts Alliance as part of their celebration of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial.  We expect to have this play’s world premiere as soon as it is deemed safe to gather again, hopefully in 2021.   Mary is currently at work on a commissioned script for a COVID-era Christmas Variety Show called “Twas the Night” for Nashville Repertory Theater which will be live streamed on 12/14/2020.

(above) Mary performing in a staged reading of “Twinkle” with daughter, also named Mary.


(above) Mary with extraordinary son Pace

Mary Donnet Johnson grew up in Vermont, earned a B.A. at Sarah Lawrence College, and spent a decade in New York City acting professionally in movies, television, radio, opera, and off-Broadway. During Mary’s time in New York she co-founded “Life Adventures Onstage,” with Kathleen Held and (McArthur Fellow) William Reale, to reach at-risk inner-city children and young students with disabilities by creating original scripts from the children’s real-life stories and producing weekly mini plays.  Mary was also active in many new play readings while in New York.

Mary now lives in Tennessee and writes plays.  Her first play, Twinkle: A One-Act Play for Three Actors, Two Aerialists, a Cellist and Chorus, was a semi-finalist in the National Playwrights Conference of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in 2014.  In 2016, Mary won a spot in the Kenyon Playwrights’ Institute and her ensemble piece, Passage, which she developed there, debuted in the Nashville Sideshow Fringe Festival.  Early in 2017, Mary wrote, produced, and directed her piece about love called Wrathin Nashville’s Ten-Minute PlayGround at the Darkhorse Theater.  Her short play, Sin Cycle, was a finalist for the Kentucky Women Writers’ 2017 Biennial Prize for playwrighting, judged by Pulitzer Prize winner Martyna Majok.  Circular Emotion was featured in the 2018 Women’s Work Festival of TN Women’s Theater Project.  Last Rights debuted in the 2019 She/Her/Hers Festival with Nashville Story Garden.  Her full-length comic drama, Shanktown is being given a staged reading at Playhouse on the Square in Memphis in December, 2020, and a short play, Mirror Me is set for publication in the Ponder Review also in 2020. 

(above) Mary performing in a staged reading of “Twinkle” with daughter, also named Mary.

Well-known as an enthusiastic collaborator, Mary has organized an ever-widening group of local actors, directors, and playwrights to meet frequently for new-play readings (now of necessity on Zoom), forging important connections between members of the theater community while providing vital support, essential feedback, and a whole lot of fun.  She is a regular workshop contributor to the Nashville Story Garden and Pipeline Collective’s Salon in conjunction with Studio Tenn in Franklin, TN.  During this COVID-19 era, Mary has doubled down on engaging a diversity of fellow theater practitioners to act as sounding boards, readers, and dramaturgs as she has continued to create new work in this time of isolation.  She has intentionally reached out to artists of different backgrounds, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and viewpoints – which has yielded many moments of joyful discovery for the participants and greatly enhanced the work.

Her commissioned works include To Know You for the Maryville College Bicentennial which had its world premiere to sold-out crowds at the Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville, TN, on November 1, 2019.  Her newest play, Party of Twelvewritten in comedic magical realism style to illuminate twelve inspiring women from Rutherford County, TN, history, was commissioned by the Rutherford County Arts Alliance as part of their celebration of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial.  We expect to have this play’s world premiere as soon as it is deemed safe to gather again, hopefully in 2021.   Mary is currently at work on a commissioned script for a COVID-era Christmas Variety Show called “Twas the Night” for Nashville Repertory Theater which will be live streamed on 12/14/2020.


Rejections I’ve loved…

“We were delighted by the play’s original conceit, but…” 

Clubbed Thumb

“Our readers expressed great admiration…and although this particular piece is not advancing…your voice and ideas have made a significant impact on our reading team.” 

Eugene O’Neill Theater Center

“It’s not right for us, but it is delightfully nutty.”  

New Georges

“…we were grateful for the opportunity to spend time with this cleverly imagined
existential drama, buoyed by supernatural mysticism, and we hope you will accept our
best wishes for its future life.”

Playwrights Horizons

and praise that gives me life…

“One of Mary’s best qualities is her positivity. She laughs easily and has a gentle eagerness. She’s phenomenally sensitive and insightful, [with a] strong, steady stance. Her maturity allows her to be her own person, walk her own walk.  She is not afraid of judgment and is brave enough to face her demons and fashion them into intriguing characters. Here in the South people tend to be polite, and good criticism is difficult to come by. Mary is always eager for honest, constructive feedback and determined to write important, illuminating, resonant works.” 
 – Denice Hicks
Artistic Director of Nashville Shakespeare Festival