Mary Donnet Johnson Artistic Statement

As an actor turned playwright it’s easy for me to hear voices in my head. I can see and feel how the action should churn and when sweet resolution should commence. My experience of making magic on stage with my own body and voice gives me a great advantage in creating strong dialog, authentic characters, and a vivid story served up in a highly theatrical way. Writing has given me something infinitely creative to do at any time of the day or night, within my own space, and wearing pajamas if I want to. Which is a good thing since I was forced to take a long hiatus from acting to attend to a critical family need. More on that later.

Collaborators often comment on how fast I work, how open I am to feedback, and how even in the face of the most daunting circumstances I manage to stay consistently upbeat and positive. Many have said they “feel like a better person” around me. I’m not afraid of questions, challenges, or critics. Considering different viewpoints, delving into research, and finding other intrepid theatre artists who like to fly high is like gold to me.

It’s important to me to represent a wide range of characters in my plays. I adore working with a diversity of dramaturgs, especially those whose lived experience is different from mine and helps enlighten me about the specifics I need to craft authentic characters and make their voices strong. Sometimes I have to steel myself and remember it’s for the good of my writing as they disabuse me of my prejudices, and wrong-headed ideas. If it makes the work better, I have no ego.

Now back to the subject of writing in my pajamas at midnight. I spent quite a few years isolated in the “disability” bootcamp. Our son has autism. He has a hard time talking. I quit all outside commitments to focus on his development. I thought it was a cruel setback for me at the time, but now I realize that I was the beneficiary of an exquisite, skill-building privilege. He trained me to know his needs through keen observation and accessing information in unconventional ways. How eloquent his voice is once you learn his language! How rewarding is the connection. Dealing with his struggle helped me build the muscles I needed to work harder, more efficiently, and with greater intensity. He has taught me to value every word. Every breath. Navigating life with this guy gives me a unique passport to finding the flipside of life and uncovering abundant treasure in the most unlikely places.

And that’s exactly the empowerment experience I want to give to audiences with every play I write.