5 Questions With… THE OUTSIDER’s Paul Slade Smith

Enjoy this exclusive interview between Script in Hand curator Mark Shanahan and Paul Slade Smith. Paul is a writer and actor, and the playwright of our June Script in Hand reading The Outsider.

MARK: Before we talk about THE OUTSIDER, I have to tell you that the Playhouse is so excited to present your play THEATRE PEOPLE in our upcoming 2024/25 Season of Laughter. As a Connecticut-born playwright, what does it feel like to have your work performed in your home state – and specifically at the Playhouse?

PAUL: Westport Country Playhouse was a theatre my Mom adored. Mom was an actress – not as a profession (that was the choice she happily made). She passed her love for theatre on to her kids. Seeing and talking about shows with my Mom was a huge part of our relationship. Having my work performed in a theatre she so regularly attended… it’s a very special, beautiful thing.


MARK: Where did the idea for THE OUTSIDER spring from in your imagination?

PAUL: In a book review I read about a political campaign, there was a passage about what I’ll call an “oh no!” moment. (In my own mind, I used a less family-friendly phrase.) It was the moment the staff realized their candidate was irreparably bad. I immediately thought “that’s a great catalyst for a play”. But then, always liking to turn things on their head, I wondered: what if the candidate is bad not because he’s incompetent – which was the story told in the book – but because, despite being extremely competent, he’s just incapable of being a politician, of putting on the show?


MARK: THE OUTSIDER is a sharp political satire, but it has a wonderful, heartfelt message about  the value of public service. Given the current, divisive political landscape, what keeps you hopeful?

PAUL: The secret I always honestly share is: I didn’t set about to write a play about the value of government, of democracy. But once I was writing a plot in which, by necessity, these were the things my protagonists were frantically fighting for, I realized that I had to define these concepts – and then imagine how to explain them to someone, at a simple, elemental level. And what I’ve discovered is: the explanation Ned gives truly speaks to audiences everywhere, regardless of their political bent. That’s proven true in productions in red counties, blue counties, everywhere it’s played. And the fact that there is a statable, definable goal – a thing we all want government to be… that’s what gives me hope.


MARK: The Outsider is becoming a runaway hit at theatres across the country. How has the play taken off in recent years and do you often go to see productions of your work? What’s that like?

PAUL: I love being a part of productions, as I have been, and occasionally traveling to see them (if there’s a personal connection for me to the production), but I also love knowing the play is out there on its own, speaking for itself. It’s a joy to hear from theatre artists who reach out to me because they’re having a blast with it and/or are really moved by its message. I love that the script is a little, unassuming book wending its way into people’s lives.


MARK: You are an accomplished actor as well as a playwright, having appeared on Broadway and many regional theatres including a recent production of DROOD at the Goodspeed. How does being an actor impact your work as a writer?

PAUL: In countless ways, I suspect. I’ve probably learned dialogue from feeling its rhythm on stage. And suspense, and surprise, and building a joke, and extending a joke. I’ve learned the value of giving each character a first entrance that defines the character. And I definitely always set out to write no “lesser” roles. Some smaller, some larger, but I want every role to be a joy to play. I want every actor cast in my plays to say “oh this is going to be fun”.

CLICK HERE or on the the graphics above to read Paul’s full bio.

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