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 the non-profit “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 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 O’Neill Theater Center in 2014.  In 2016, Passage debuted in the 2016 Nashville Sideshow Fringe Festival.  In 2017, Mary’s piece about love called Wrath, was produced by Nashville’s Ten-Minute PlayGround at the Darkhorse Theater, and 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, and her 10-minute Last Rights was a highlight of the 2019 She/Her/Hers Festival with Nashville Story Garden.  In 2020, Mary’s full-length comedy/drama Shanktown was given a Zoom reading and will have a full production at Playhouse on the Square in Memphis July 8-24, 2022.

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

(above) Mary with extraordinary son Pace

Mirror Me was published in the Ponder Review in the fall of 2020.  Her original video script for Nashville Repertory’s holiday musical extravaganza was streamed online in December of 2020.  In 2021 Mary’s full-length play Bend was named a semi-finalist in the American Shakespeare Center’s Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries competition.

Her commissioned plays 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, November 1-2, 2019.  Her latest commission, Party of Twelve, illuminates inspiring women from Rutherford County, TN, history and will have its world premiere at the Washington Theatre in Murfreesboro, TN, April 8-10, 2022. 

Mary is a member of Dramatists Guild of America, Playwright’s Center, New Play Exchange, and Theatre Communications Group.


(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 the non-profit “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 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 O’Neill Theater Center in 2014.  In 2016, Passage debuted in the 2016 Nashville Sideshow Fringe Festival.  In 2017, Mary’s piece about love called Wrath, was produced by Nashville’s Ten-Minute PlayGround at the Darkhorse Theater, and 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, and her 10-minute Last Rights was a highlight of the 2019 She/Her/Hers Festival with Nashville Story Garden.  In 2020, Mary’s full-length comedy/drama Shanktown was given a Zoom reading and will have a full production at Playhouse on the Square in Memphis July 8-24, 2022.  Mirror Me was published in the Ponder Review in the fall of 2020.  Her original video script for Nashville Repertory’s holiday musical extravaganza was streamed online in December of 2020.  In 2021 Mary’s full-length play Bend was named a semi-finalist in the American Shakespeare Center’s Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries competition.

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

Her commissioned plays 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, November 1-2, 2019.  Her latest commission, Party of Twelve, illuminates inspiring women from Rutherford County, TN, history and will have its world premiere at the Washington Theatre in Murfreesboro, TN, April 8-10, 2022. 

Mary is a member of Dramatists Guild of America, Playwright’s Center, New Play Exchange, and Theatre Communications Group.


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…

“Tenacious and driven, Mary is committed to the craft of storytelling and collaborates with any team to create new and exciting pieces of art.  Most importantly, it is Mary’s diverse and well-traveled background that leads her to a plethora of environments and collaborators.  Her strong moral fiber makes her (most importantly) an exemplary leader, and I’m excited to see her stories come to life onstage.  It has been an honor to be part of her journey, and I know you will find it to be the same.”

Benjamin A. Kern
Theatre artist/dramaturg

“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

“I know two of Mary’s plays, the tragic and funny Shanktown and especially her recent work, Possession, a wonderful dance between the almost normal and a surrealistic journey with the Virgin Mary through time. Mary is keen to explore all kinds of spiritual corners in her plays, as well as uniquely theatrical ways of portraying them. I’ve seen the progression of Possession. Mary set herself bold challenges and was willing to experiment and expand and throw things away in her exploration of the play. She is a relatively fast writer, and it was a wonder to see successive iterations of Possession, each markedly different from the previous one. I urge you to read her work and get to know this gifted artist.”

Christopher Baker
Christopher Baker
Dramaturg, and Graduate Program Director of Theatre at U. Mass Amherst