An Interview with Michael Paul Smith, playwright of "Twas the Night"

What first inspired you to do start acting and doing theatre?

My earliest memory was being told that the people on TV weren't actually going through those situations, and wanting to do what they do. It was Mary Martin's "Peter Pan" to be exact. I noticed the strings that were making them fly, and then I got the news. And it wasn't bad news. It changed my life (to the extent that a 3 year old's life can be changed).
My second earliest memory was crying when I had the tragic realization that I'll never be able to see my own face without a mirror. Un-related, but dramatic, nonetheless...

What continues to inspire you today?

I want to say that seeing good work inspires me, because it does. But that's not exactly true. Seeing bad work inspires me, also. It makes me analyze what could have been done differently. So I guess the real answer is that I am inspired by anyone in any artistic medium that risks failure; even if the end result turns out to be failure. It's only the safe, "hotel art" work that bores me.
Also, jazz. I can't listen to jazz and not want to create something.

What were specific inspirations for this play?

The main inspiration is Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit From St. Nicholas." I love Christmas with a passion. I wrote the first draft of "Twas the Night" over Memorial Day weekend 2014 because I wanted it to be Christmas. It was hot, I already had bug bites, and I just wanted to have a reason to put on a sweater and listen to Bing Crosby. I love Christmas music. And good Christmas movies; all of which I tried my best to shout-out throughout the play. I was also just trying to write something funny, and produceable. I found myself thinking about Tom Stoppard's brilliant "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead"--which follows the two most forgettable (and most often cut) characters from "Hamlet." While the parents in Moore's poem are not nearly as insignificant as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I had the idea of really exploring the world of that household that night, and went from there. 

When people leave the theatre after seeing Twas The Night what do you want them to take away?

I love Christmas because of the way it can bring people together, and how it often makes us our best selves. But it can also be a very bittersweet, sometimes even lonely, time. I want every person who sees 'Twas the Night to leave feeling like they just got a present of their own. And maybe the communal aspect of theatre will remind them that none of us are as alone as it feels sometimes. We all have a lot in common.

Do you have any personal Christmas Memories or stories to share?

Oh, man. I was raised to watch "March of the Wooden Soldiers" every Thanksgiving, and the Alistair Sim portrayal of "Scrooge" every Christmas Eve. When I was a teenager, I started staying up late and reading the poem by myself as I put my presents for my family under the tree; even sort of acting it out like the nerd that I am. Nowadays, my wife and I read the poem together on Christmas Eve, alternating every year. My favorite recent Christmas memory was from just a few weeks ago. It was the day of our first rehearsal, and I wanted a new illustrated copy of the poem for the occasion. So the lady that was unlucky enough to get me at the book store found herself looking through their back room because it was too soon for any Christmas books to be out on the floor. But she found it. And the first thing I did with my amazing cast was have them all sign the space that says "This book belongs to..." and then we passed the book around, reading the poem like it was "story time." I even baked cookies for the occasion. And I don't bake. But as the saying goes: anything worth doing is worth doing right.

Tell us a little about the cast?

They are an inspiring, generous, patient bunch of people. Perhaps I should have put the word "patient" in caps. Most of us already knew each other going into the process, and I certainly consider them all personal friends as well. But this is my stage directorial debut. And a brand new piece that's never been staged! So we're taking some time to experiment and see what works, but there's so much love in the room when we're all together I don't even know what to do with myself. Plus, I baked Christmas cookies for them in October, so...yeah. I've known Kevin Mundy and Chris Cuoccio since High School, and had a blast working with them both in "Waiting for Godot" last year and "Much Ado About Nothing" this past Spring. My favorite actors are versatile, and these guys are nothing if not that. And Kelly Warne is one of the funniest people I've ever known. I was such a big fan of her's that I wrote a principal role specifically for her in my webseries "The Residuals." She brings a wild silliness to her role in 'Twas the Night that's taking shape in ways I hadn't even imagined. 

What are some other favorite projects that you have worked on?

"The Residuals" is definitely the project that I'm the proudest of. My wife Gillian (who is making her stage managing debut for 'Twas) and I shared all of the responsibilities as showrunners and taught ourselves how to make it through every production-related roadblock from budgeting to post-production. What resulted is our pride and joy. It's a show about actors that do commercials, and you can see both seasons at www.theresiduals.tv
Onstage, I've learned as much about myself as an actor this past year as any other year that I can recall. Playing Vladimir in "Waiting For Godot", opposite my dear friend and LITC's Artistic Director Ian Sullivan, was an enormous challenge not only because of the absurdist material, but also because of the sheer wordiness of it. We worked very hard with our beloved Lenny Motsinger to put our own spin on it, and I'm very proud of the result.
Playing Don Pedro in "Much Ado" this past spring was a challenge for me because the character, while important for the plot, isn't the subject of much personal conflict. Kevin Mundy directed me to fill in those blanks with my own imagination, and so I did.  

Are you working on any other scripts right now?

Oh, nothing really. Just the 30 minute pilot version of "The Residuals", another pilot with guys from my old improv/sketch group, an animated short, an animated full-length, two screenplays, two treatments, and exactly seven other ideas that I fervently believe in and that deserve my attention. Basically, if I'm not down with the flu or some such thing, you can find me at the keyboard.