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Playwright Spotlight: Get to Know John Donald O'Shea

Welcome to "Playwright Spotlight" — your exclusive backstage pass to the creative minds crafting the incredible plays featured in our Theatrefolk catalogue. Discover the magic, quirks, and genius of the playwrights who help bring the stage to life. Let's meet one of these exceptional playwrights who offers the chance for your student performers to shine in their spotlight.

What inspired you to start writing plays specifically for high school & middle school students?

After retiring from the bench, I was asked to direct a play at a local Junior High School. I soon found I needed plays for the kids to perform. So I wrote my first, Little Nell and the Mortgage Foreclosure.

Can you share a bit about your creative process when developing plays that resonate with students?
I start with the germ of an idea, and begin to write.

Are there any challenges you face when writing for student performers, and how do you overcome them?

I try to remember what my life was life when I was the age of those that I am writing for, and I try to write something that would have interested me.

What themes or messages do you aim to convey through your plays?

When I have written my farces, my only message is "have fun!" When I wrote my Holocaust play, I Wanted to Live I wanted to teach my actors and audience of the Horrors of the Holocaust, and demostrate the courage of a 10 year-old Jewish Child who acted heroically in her efforts to save her life and the lives of her family membered, and to teach young people today what hatred can lead to. When I wrote Mornings After The Dream I was trying to show black children in America that if President Obama could be elected President, that they too could succeed — if they were willing to put in the needed effort, and that American, if it had been a racist country, would never had elected a black President.

How do you balance education and fun in your scripts?

I believe vocabulary is critical to the success of every child. I never hesitate to use big words in a script. But I always use the words in a context where they are clearly understandable to the student actor.

Can you share a memorable experience or feedback from a student performance that left an impact on you?

On more than one occasion, I have cast students who were doing poorly in school, only to see them succeed in their performance, and thereafter become confident in themselves. This led to their new success in school.

Any advice for teachers or directors looking to choose engaging and age-appropriate plays for their student performers?

Don't be afraid to choose a play with a strong positive message.

What is your favourite play you've written so far?

My favorite melodrama is Little Nell and the Mortgage Foreclosure. My favorite farce would be The Day Ma's Boys Done Went to Town to Rob The Bank Again. My favorite Christmas Play would be my The First Herald Angel, or The Stuffed Animal. My favorite serious play would be I Wanted to Live, my Holocaust play. My favorite Halloween play would be Death Warrant for Dracula. My favorite murder-comedy would be The Gulls. I am very proud of all my plays.

Anything else you'd like students and/or directors to know about you as a playwright?
As a young lawyer, I decided I wanted to be a judge. At 32 years of age, I ran to be elected a Circuit Judge. I took no money from anybody, except my dad and brother, for my campaign. I didn't ask permission or blessing from the political bosses. I went door-to-door for six months, and I won both my primary and general election. I became a Circuit Judge at age 33, and remained on the bench, through four "retention" elections, for 26 years, until my retirement. In my retirement, I served as a volunteer theatrical director for our local Catholic High School, and three junior highs. I have published 18 plays, and more recently three books about America's Great Depression of the 1930s, two Christmas Children's stories, four books of my political opinion pieces that originally appeared in our local newspapers, and two other short books. My books can be seen on my author's website, and they can be found ordered on Amazon by simply typing in my full name: John Donald O'Shea. More details can be found on my author's website, which can be viewed here.

Products referenced in this post: Little Nell and the Mortgage Foreclosure

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