Molly's Desk: Why We Write... Right?

By: Molly McFadden

“Why did you write a play and where did you find the courage to have it read out loud for others to hear?” 

We recently had guests visiting from Michigan over the Easter Holiday and out of the blue our guest asked me this question. I was stunned and also honored that he thought well enough of my project to take the time and give it some thought which brought about the question. Looking at him for a few moments I told him that I believed I have always wanted to write, but because of the events in the past few years I now had to write.  

“Why?” he asked. 

“I have a deep desire and need to make sense of my life and time is of the essence.” I continued, “I felt deeply connected with people when we had the bistro back in Michigan and I miss that connection which our bistro brought about. Now living here in Cleveland all I feel that I have left are my words to tell my story.” 

“So why not open another bistro?” he said with a gleeful smile to which I told him, “they lose too much money.”  

He continued asking me if the courage is different from writing to performing. “I believe it is,” I answered. “I have performed most of my life and for the most part have always had the necessary courage because I love to entertain. I love to be on the stage and I love to move people to another dimension and I know I have talent. Now, however with writing it is a new playing field and I believe I am finding my courage to continue”. 

“Well... what exactly do you have to say and why do you think others will be interested,” he continued. 

Taking another gulp of wine I realized this was not going to be easy. 

“Ah yes, therein lies the truth doesn’t it?” I answered. 

Our guest continued with his insight that, being an architect, he learned early in his career that when others reviewed his drawings they were not focusing or criticizing him, it was the work and the drawings on the wall which were separate from him, so he never took it personally. However writing, he felt, is personal and he wondered how we both could have the courage to have it read or heard by others. I nodded and thinking to myself I have been searching for the answer to that very question and one we go over all the time in StageWrights. In fact, I thought with my recent play that it was important enough for others to see and hear and that they would care. 

Well…..not quite. 

It was important to write it and perhaps to go back and work on it, but for now I am to move forward and write something else. “Well” he said, still not having an adequate answer I kept thinking to myself. 

My question now is what do I have to say? Do we proceed ahead and evaluate what we think others want to hear and then write about that in order to obtain success? Or do we write about what is close to our heart and perhaps a connection will be made? I always go back to what it is I achieve best and thought that with the Bistro I never cooked a meal or designed a dish because of what others in the industry said we should serve – I always prepared a dish from inspiration and creativity and we were always sold out and booked. 

I finally answered to him, “I believe writers write for many reasons. For me it is to connect with others and to tell my story, so we are none of us alone on our journey.” I recently came across an interview Toni Morrison said with Oprah Magazine: "There are all sorts of ways people try to stay connected, try not to live in hate. Religion may be one of them, but for me the central thing is the writing. The art itself. Putting my intelligence and my humanity to the best possible use ..." I like what she said, and it resonated with me.

He liked what I had to say and gave me a toast to which I gladly finished off my wine. 

“So, what is next on the agenda for the McFaddens,” to which I answered that we both were going to continue writing and that we look forward to getting back to our StageWrights group at Ensemble Theatre.

I for one am happy that we are getting back together because I need to connect with these writers and have my work read and discussed. We comment on each other's work, never criticized, and I find their voices soothing. In fact they provide the necessary courage to continue on this journey. 

Tyler recently sent us a quote from a Twitter thread from screenwriter Paul Guyot and the one that really spoke to me was this one.  “I know it sounds hippie dippie, but I believe you must get to a place where you are writing and writing and writing for no other reason than you love the process in order to give yourself the best shot at the outcome.”

So, the holidays are over, and we are all back together, so it is back to work.

“One of the most fundamental of human fears is that our existence will go unnoticed.” 
― Ralph KeyesThe Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear


Molly's Desk: When it's all Said and Done...

by: Molly McFadden

I am back. 

I have been offline so to speak as I was working on my play, Fish Feel Pain, and preparing for the first reading of my life and it has been daunting to say the least. 

First and foremost the cast I was fortunate enough to work with was wonderful. I want to thank them for their talent, support and insightful suggestions through this process! So blessed to be living in Cleveland and surrounded by such talent; as well as a nurturing environment Celeste and Tyler provide with Ensemble Theatre and the StageWrights group – thank you again. 

So ... how am I doing? I started this blog last October in 2017 with the words, “I can do this, I have to do this and tell my story!” OK I did it. I put pen to paper and created the characters and wrote the play ... now what? Is there life after a reading? Of course there is and it ranges from going back to work on the script, or putting it away for a while to marinate and write something else. 

WHAT? What if I don’t have anything else within me to write about? This is the thought that echoes through my being and causes me to stop dead in my tracks for now. 

OK, slow down. 

The main take away from this process and these last few months is the fact that I can pretty safely say I can write. I have received validation that I have a talent to write and that is quite an important first step. Take a breath and feel that warm glow that you have something. 

Did I succeed in saying what it was I wanted to share with people with this play? I think so, but remember this is a play for the theatre and it requires more than just going down a reflective journey about one’s life, which is what I realize is what I was writing. That is certainly nice, but is it drama? Not at the moment. Could it be made into a drama? Yes, I believe so but what is the point? What is the one sentence that can summarize Fish Feel Pain that I have poured myself into? 

Playwrights need instinct and heart but must also be pragmatic. I believe we learn from the masters and I for one love Arthur Miller and the play Death of A Salesmanon many levels and would often go to the script for inspiration and guidance as I worked on FishSalesman addresses loss of identity and a man's inability to accept change within himself and society. The play is a montage of memories, dreams, confrontations, and arguments, all of which make up the last 24 hours of Willy Loman's life. The three major themes within the play are denial, contradiction, and order versus disorder. 

Right now Fish Feel Pain is all over the place and until I can surgically identify what it is I am trying to say with these characters and their relationships to one another, my play will just be a warm aroma of a soup too full of spices and ingredients for anybody to smell or taste. In other words ... way too much is going on and I need to step back and rethink the whole play and process. I can do that now because I had to throw it up on the wall and write it from my very inner soul, but now I need to step back and take a look at what it is I am trying to, not only say ... but more importantly ... dramatize! This is why it is so daunting and that writing for the theatre is not for the fainthearted. I can write prose, come up with delightful imagery, paint a pretty picture and offer up sentiments that make us feel warm and fuzzy ... but that is not theatre. What will it take to truly step into the ring and swing with the best of them. 

You see in Death of a Salesman each member of the Loman family is living in denial or perpetuating a cycle of denial for others. This is important as to what the characters are doing to one another and what is at stake. Currently I don’t have that right now with my members of the family in my play. Willy Loman, unlike my Maggie,  is incapable of accepting the fact that he is a mediocre salesman. Instead Willy strives for his version of the American dream — success and notoriety — even if he is forced to deny reality in order to achieve it. Instead of acknowledging that he is not a well-known success, Willy retreats into the past and chooses to relive past memories and events in which he is perceived as successful.

I stand in awe of how Arthur Miller was able to write a play about  denial, contradiction, and the quest for order versus disorder; the three major themes of Salesman. All three themes work together creating a dreamlike atmosphere in which the audience watches a man's identity and mental stability slip away. What is so important is that this play continues to affect audiences because it allows them to hold a mirror up to themselves. That is something I am trying to do with Fish Feel Pain. Willy's self-deprecation, sense of failure, and overwhelming regret are emotions that an audience can relate to because everyone has experienced them at one time or another. Individuals continue to react to Death of a Salesman because Willy's situation is not unique: He made a mistake — a mistake that irrevocably changed his relationship with the people he loves most — and when all of his attempts to eradicate his mistake fail, he makes one grand attempt to correct the mistake. Willy vehemently denies Biff's claim that they are both common ordinary people, but ironically, it is the universality of the play which makes it so enduring. Biff's statement, "I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you," is true after all.

So, after last night’s reading I realize too many words and not enough action. My universal theme I was attempting to dramatize is that we all have pain similar to what the fish feel and what we do with that pain is what identifies who we are in the end. SO what? Well … I go back to the recipe for my soup and start all over again ... or not.

I want to leave you with one final thought that occurred to me. Remember how I wrote that I not only love to cook, but knit as well. I worked on a sweater for two years for my husband and he wore it last night. I had the pattern, beautiful yarn and glorious buttons.  When all was said and done I had succeeded in finishing this project. But looking at this sweater on my husband I realized one thing ... after all the hard work over the last two years, I have to start all over because it doesn’t really fit him and just doesn’t work. Such is life and we go back to the drawing board be it the play or a sweater. I shall keep you posted. I leave you with this quote from Death of a Salesman

WILLY: You wait, kid, before it’s all over we’re gonna get a little place out in the country, and I’ll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens.

Molly's Desk: Writing is Seeing

By: Molly McFadden

Tyler has encouraged those of us who participate in the StageWrights group to see as many plays as we can. I have tried to live up to the task at hand and quite frankly have loved every minute of it. I saw American Dreamer’s at the Cleveland Public Theatre, Angels in America at Ensemble, and most recently, Jelly Belly at Ensemble Theatre. 

All three of these productions were powerful. They were stunning in production value, acting and ensemble work. How did they impact me as someone who wants to write? Well ... I have so far to go but to keep trying and stay the course with my commitment to my writing. Which is what exactly? To tell my story as they told theirs. 

Theatergoing is a crucial element in any playwright’s work. How else will you know what works and what doesn’t onstage, what other writers are thinking about, how audiences are responding?

Write about what inspires the singular person you are.

What makes me want to put pen to paper? I continually ask myself, “What is my purpose? What am I committed to giving to the world? What service do I want to provide with my talent—whether that’s as an actor or writer—that comes from something that is essentially me but is also greater than me?”


With the recent productions I recently saw, all of the playwrights did in fact have an investment in their plays as well as a passionate voice writing about what they know. 

Most recently, Jelly Belly we see a powerful story of a convict returning from a brief prison stay to resume his position as the neighborhood kingpin. The front porch in Jelly Belly makes a ripe neutral ground for the confrontation in Charles Smith's naturalistic morality play. Halfway between the cold street and a warm home, the set offers an apt battleground for a test of wills that becomes a struggle between evil and good. The Chicago Defender wrote “Employing gritty poetry of the streets, Smith introduces us to Jelly Belly, who attempts to regain the service of Kenny, a former drug runner who has gone straight. Kenny is torn between the hope of prosperity through hard work shared with his friend Mike, or the opportunistic life of a drug pusher Jelly Belly offers.”

With American Dreamer’s at the Cleveland Public Theatre, you participate in the passion of this young female playwright, Leila Buck. She has been quoted with her experiences, “I’ve been in war zones, I’ve been under Israeli bombs, under ISIL bombs, under Iranian bombs. So, I know there are reasons we have security and borders and questions about who we let in. And I also know there are real issues and problems with the assumptions and questions that go into how we decide who gets let in. And those conversations are more complex than they often appear in the media, and even in some of our own living rooms.”  

With American Dreamers you are invited into the live studio audience of “American Dreams,” where you will decide which of three contestants will receive the ultimate prize: citizenship in “the greatest nation on earth.” Weaving playful audience engagement with up-to-the-moment questions about immigration and more, this participatory performance explores how we navigate between fear, security, and freedom; who and what we choose to believe—and how those choices come to shape who we are. 


Finally with Angels in America at Ensemble,  “Any debate about what this play means or does not mean for Broadway seems, in the face of the work itself, completely beside the point. Angels in America speaks so powerfully because something far larger and more urgent than the future of the theater is at stake. It really is history that Mr. Kushner intends to crack open.”

Frank Rich, the New York Times, May 5, 1993


Tony Kushner wanted it to be about gay men, the AIDS crisis, and Mormonism … and he knew there was an angel in it. He was also choosing to write about what was then the very recent past. AIDS was so horrible, it was so horrible, it was a lethal diagnosis. You went from lesions to death and people were afraid to sit on toilet seats, and people with AIDS were so vilified.

In a word, what were these plays about?

Jelly Belly - battleground for a test of wills that becomes a struggle between evil and good.


American Dreamer’s - exploring how we navigate between fear, security, and freedom; who and what we choose to believe—and how those choices come to shape who we are.


Angels in America - why is democracy succeeding in America ... or is it?


When I feel I have gotten off course I go back to my artistic statement I composed for this play and evaluate if I am holding true to the statement and commitment through the writing and rewriting of Fish Feel Pain.

Artistic Statement

I want to create art wherein the ultimate goal is to help people feel more empathy, and therefore to feel less alone. As quoted by Roger Ebert on his perspective about film.

Fish Feel Pain is about our society and my personal interpretation of that society and it is worth talking about, it is worth putting in the effort to make better, it is worth my blood, my sweat, my tears, and my soul. I want us all to feel less alone.

This play is about coming to terms with the transitions in life and the American Dream. My goal is to create a play that sits inside the contradictions and paradoxes of life beyond the issues of our time, that wrestles with the fear of death, alienation, loneliness and spirituality – to meditate on these parts of life, and to hopefully, if successful, get closer to sharing The Truth that each of us already knows, and in so doing, become more connected to each other.

I believe this piece draws amazing parallels to the current problems facing older Americans and millennials as the baby boomers get older and more dependent on their children. I also believe this piece addresses the struggles of the artists who are to be produced and hopefully survive in this current culture. With the demise of the middle class, the majority have become the new impoverished minority, regardless of race, creed or color.

As a white woman who recently turned 65, I have had real life, cross-cultural experiences that I wish to share with the writing of this play. I believe theater is the only place where anyone can experience the visceral, gut level wrenching of being an individual in the family unit. It is the only place where we can learn to be more generous and more tolerant, and happier and enriched – not by observing other cultures, but by experiencing ourselves in those changes and transformations.


Writing classes, such as the wonderful StageWrights at Ensemble, are a great way to find and grow our artistic community, and even experienced playwrights keep their skills honed by workshopping new ideas in group settings. 


Things to consider ...


• Ask yourself what your story is. You could try summarizing it in a sentence or two and sticking it by your desk, so you can keep it in mind.

• Get into the habit of writing. If you're short on time, try writing little but often.

• Overwrite, then cut. (Don't reveal in the first scene that Oedipus is sleeping with his mother.)

• Women tend to write subconsciously, men tend to plan more. Do whatever works for you.

• Give your main character obstacles to overcome. He/she should have changed by the end of the play, if only fractionally.

• What are your characters' wants and objectives? These might change from scene to scene.

• Make your characters extraordinary or larger than life in some way.

• Think about the subtext of your dialogue and remember that people often don't say what they want to say - or say the opposite of what they think.

• You might find it useful to "hot seat" your characters. Assume the identity of one of your characters and get someone to ask you questions about yourself.

Molly's Desk: On "Angels in America, Part One"

By: Molly McFadden

Any debate about what this play means or does not mean for Broadway seems, in the face of the work itself, completely beside the point. Angels in America speaks so powerfully because something far larger and more urgent than the future of the theater is at stake. It really is history that Mr. Kushner intends to crack open.
Frank Rich, the New York Times, May 5, 1993


When you write you can not go quietly into the night and be meek as to what you wish to say. As Tyler has said in StageWright class, “If it were easy everyone would do it.” It is not easy and after seeing this production of Angels in America at Ensemble Theatre I wonder about my journey. 

What, of my play I am working on, has anything to do with the realities and struggles of people today? In other words, who cares? 

You must not use a small paint brush to outline your vision or translate your tiny whispers. No, you must be bold with your convictions and believe what you have to say is vital. Today we toss around the slogan of encouragement, “OWN IT,” but in the 80s and 90s, I don’t ever remember that terminology being used to encourage those in the arts. This magnificent production of Angels left me enthralled and loving every single moment. I have been thinking about this play and I was humbled. Mr. Kushner does in fact OWN IT.

In 1988, Tony Kushner began writing his play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. He wanted it to be about gay men, the AIDS crisis, and Mormonism … and he knew there was an angel in it. He was also choosing to write about what was then the very recent past. AIDS was so horrible, it was so horrible, it was a lethal diagnosis. You went from lesions to death, and people were afraid to sit on toilet seats, and people with AIDS were so vilified.

The easy thing would have been to turn away and write about a lighter topic, but not Kushner. One of his outstanding talents is his intellect, and he looked at the attacks on his community and set out to write a play that would offer comfort, inspiration, and even hope to a generation of people.

I was interested and intrigued with the beginnings of this project for Mr. Kushner. The play premiered in the tiny Eureka Theatre in San Francisco’s Mission District. Within two years it had won the Pulitzer Prize and began a New York run that would dominate the Tony Awards two years in a row. Revitalizing the nonmusical play on Broadway, Angels in America changed the way gay lives were represented in pop culture. Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, put gay men at the center of American politics, history, and mythology at a time when they were marginalized by the culture at large and dying in waves. Mr. Kushner wrote it—and rewrote it, and rewrote it, and rewrote it again. 

Nothing comes easy.

In an interview - Tony Kushner shared his journey and struggle with this epic piece saying, “I got sort of stuck after I finished. All the characters had behaved and obeyed the outline that I had written. I didn’t know what to do next, and for the first time ever I asked one of the characters to explain to me what the play was about. I picked Louis because he was sort of the most like me—at least demographically. “What is this play about?” and then just started writing. And the first thing he said to me was, “Why is democracy succeeding in America?”

My husband and I lived in New York during the 70s and through the 90s, and I recall the syndrome being called the “gay cancer.” Fundamentalist preachers were only too happy to call it a punishment from God; people were calling for quarantines of gay men; people were terrified that you could catch it from public restrooms.

Back in the 80s, William F. Buckley – a tweedy scholarly man considered the leading intellectual of the Right – said that people with AIDS should be tattooed both on the forearm (so needle-sharers would be alerted) and on the ass (so gay men would be alerted during sex). He suggested this seemingly in all seriousness, apparently not realizing that visibly tattooing people would put them at risk of being attacked, and seemingly also blind to the resemblance to the serial numbers tattooed onto the arms of people who had, two generations earlier, been rounded up and thrown into Jewish concentration camps. But are we so different today ... not really when you see what is happening in Washington.

Now that the AIDS crisis has receded, and gay civil rights have become standard in Western countries, perhaps a seven-hour play about gay life in Ronald Reagan’s America might risk looking anachronistic. 

But for me, the many subplots of Mr. Kushner’s kaleidoscopic work at Ensemble Theatre, from performative vulnerable masculinity to conflicts within the progressive movement, are still fresh today.