Tommy Smith (playwright)

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Tommy Smith is a playwright and screenwriter.

Early life[edit]

Initially an actor in Seattle, WA, Smith played roles at the Intiman Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre,[1] and others before working in the literary department at ACT Theatre. He began writing and adapting plays, winning the Artistic Pick at the 2001 Seattle Fringe Festival with his solo show version of Joe Wenderoth's book Letters to Wendy’s.[2]

New York theatre[edit]

Hired to come to New York to perform in Richard Foreman's King Cowboy Rufus Rules The Universe,[3] Smith was accepted into the Juilliard School's Playwriting Program under Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang. Upon his graduation, Smith was invited to The Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference to develop his play Air Conditioning.[4]

The next year, Smith teamed with director May Adrales at the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab to develop White Hot, a darkly comic psychological drama. The play premiered at HERE Arts Center in and was published in The New York Theatre Review. The foreword by playwright Craig Lucas says:

"[Tommy Smith] is writing in the shadow of our most daring and politically incendiary of martyred playwright saints, Sarah Kane and Edward Bond ... This is bleak terrain, a buried cesspool of self-loathing and unseemly, sadistic yearnings in love. The play can be read as a critique of the deadening fallout of our reactionary, materialistic, exploitative and soulless era. It can be read as a bad dream or a soap opera about the banality of evil. However you read it, it doesn’t go down easy."[5]

Adrales and Smith’s next collaboration – the boundary-pushing identity drama The Wife – was hailed by The New York Times as “excellent … [the play] is a brew all Mr. Smith’s own, a sort of warped, contemporary La Ronde.”[6]

Los Angeles theatre & film[edit]

After optioning the screenplay FIGMENT with Ridley Scott’s ScottFree production company[7], Smith relocated to Los Angeles. While in LA, Smith collaborated with director Chris Fields – the ousted founder of the Ojai Playwrights Festival [8] – for three successful productions.

Their 90s kitchen sink drama Firemen won five LADCC Awards, including Best Writing, and was named one of the year's best stage shows by The LA Times.[9][10] The play also generated controversy for its treatment of a romance between a teenage boy and his school secretary.[11]

The following year, Smith and Fields received glowing reviews for Fugue, a violent choral play about the doomed love lives of classical composers Tchaikovsky, Gesualdo, and Schoenberg.[12]

Smith and Fields’ artistic relationship crumbled over contractual misunderstandings with their third and final production, the solo female prose play Ghost Light, whose single performance nonetheless generated good notices:

"[Smith’s] words open up onto haunting and darkly grotesque psychic landscapes unreachable by more pedestrian dramatic entertainments, [ranging] in feeling from the experimental flash fictions of Donald Barthelme to the early schizophrenic-styled writing of Peter Handke."[13]

Collaborations with Reggie Watts[edit]

Smith premiered three original pieces – Disinformation, Transition and Dutch A/V – at The Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival with long-time friend and comedian/musician Reggie Watts.[14][15][16] Filled with complex projected imagery by ex-Wooster Group video artist Joby Emmons, these pieces were born from Smith and Watts' belief in Situationism, as the stage shows seek to bait viewers into a trance-like state via an assortment of linguistic and visual tricks.

A fourth piece performed almost entirely in the dark, Radioplay, opened at PS122.[17] A recording of Transition at On the Boards helped launch the first-ever live performance download website, OTBTV.[18]

While Smith halted actively collaborating with Watts after the singer failed to credit co-writing of the lyrics of viral hits “Fuck Shit Stack” and “What About Blowjobs?”[19], their pieces played to acclaim and sold-out houses at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), The Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh), ICA (Boston), Ars Nova (New York), among other venues.

Influence of mental illness on writing[edit]

Smith lives with major depressive disorder. His method for writing characters acts as therapy for his medical condition: "Playwriting for me is the preservation of the extremities of my mental state. The authenticity comes from not fucking with or changing or denying the actual manifestation of violence in my mind."[20]

Smith was to perform in a production of his play White Hot when he attempted suicide. The director – Braden Abraham, A.D. of The Seattle Repertory Theatre – replaced Smith for the acclaimed performances.[21]


For his work as a playwright in the New York theatre scene, Smith was awarded the PONY Fellowship at the Lark Play Development Center.[22] For his collaborations with Watts, Smith won the MAP Fund Award and Creative Capital Award. Smith is also credited for helping to establish the Indie Rock Musical genre for his book for the Williamstown Theatre Festival musical Caravan Man.[23]


  1. ^ Frank, Jonathan. "1776 and Spinning Into Butter" Talkin' Broadway, New York, 14 April 2000. Retrieved on 2010-05-21
  2. ^ "Seattle's Fringe Festival 2002 in Jetsetters Magazine at". Retrieved 2018-11-06.
  3. ^ Smith, Tommy. "Snap Crackle Pop: Dancing in Richard Foreman’s Brain" Brooklyn Rail, Brooklyn, 1 March 2007. Retrieved on 2010-05-21
  4. ^ Hernandez, Ernio "Broadway Stars Ready for Readings at O'Neill Center Playwrights Conference" Archived 2012-10-15 at the Wayback Machine. Playbill, New York, 1 March 2006. Retrieved on 2010-05-21
  5. ^ BWW News Desk (27 February 2013). "The Flea Premieres WHITE HOT by Tommy Smith, Beginning 4/26". Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  6. ^ Saltz, Rachel. "'The Wife,' by Tommy Smith, at Access Theater - Review". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  7. ^ "PoNY - Playwrights of New York". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  8. ^ SHIRLEY, DON (2002-07-25). "It's a Touch of the Taper in Ojai". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  9. ^ McNulty, Charles McNulty, By Charles. "Charles McNulty's best stage shows of 2014". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  10. ^ Gelt, Jessica. "Small theaters win big at L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  11. ^ McNulty, Charles (2014-03-22). "Cooler heads need prevail over heated criticism of incendiary 'Firemen'". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  12. ^ "FUGUE press". Tommy Smith. 2015-03-01. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  13. ^ Raden, Bill (2015-08-11). "Ghost Light Is an Entrancing Evening of Grimly Comic Short-Short Plays". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  14. ^ "Helen Shaw reviews Under the Radar: Dutch A/V". Time Out New York. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  15. ^ Zinoman, Wilborn Hampton and Jason. "Under the Radar Festival - Theater - Review". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  16. ^ Thielman, Sam (2009-01-23). "Experimental theater thrives at Radar". Variety. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  17. ^ Simon, Lizzie. "An Old-Fashioned Show in the Hair and Now". WSJ. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  18. ^ La Rocco, Claudia. "Recording Staged Works for All the World to See" New York Times, New York, 20 January 2010. Retrieved on 2010-05-21
  19. ^ "Pumping in and pumping out: genre-defying performer Reggie Watts advocates theatre that shifts gears and keeps its engines running. - Free Online Library". Retrieved 2018-11-09.
  20. ^ "Playwright to Playwright: Sheila Callaghan Interviews Tommy Smith « Playscripts Blog". Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  21. ^ Minard, Anna. "There Will Be Blood". The Stranger. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  22. ^ Cox, Gordon. "Smith snags Lark fellowship" Variety, New York, 17 May 2010. Retrieved on 2010-05-21
  23. ^ "The 7th Annual Year in Ideas". Retrieved 2018-11-20.