Keep an eye on Paul McCabe '04, who has penned just one play (so far) -- but it's a national prizewinner.
by Kimberlyn David '06
Paul McCabe '04 has accomplished what most new playwrights, as they collect stacks of rejection slips during years of solitary toil, can only dream of: instant success. Paul's first play, Get Off, not only made its way to the "must read" pile of dramatists around the country, it has already received the prestigious Jean Kennedy Smith Playwriting Award and been featured at the country's "national theater."
The Smith award honors one student per year for the most outstanding play about people living with disabilities. As this year's winner, Paul received a cash prize and a five-day stay in Washington, D.C., where a scene from his play was showcased at the Kennedy Center. Winning the award, says Paul, is a tribute to the IC professors who mentored him.
One of those professors is the writing department's Sally Parr. Get Off evolved from an assignment for her Personal Essay class, in which Paul wrote about an accident at age 22 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. During the first semester of his senior year he expanded that essay into a full-length play for an independent study with Claire Gleitman, who currently chairs the English department. For his coursework Paul initially wanted to study a play that addressed the psychological trauma people can experience when they become paralyzed. After he spent four fruitless weeks searching for such a play, his professor lent some advice. "She suggested that I write such a play," says Paul. "I thought that was an exciting idea." And so, within just 12 weeks, Paul finished the script and began sending it around to theaters.
Get Off is the story of Jack, a 22-year-old who has been paralyzed by a spinal cord injury. According to Paul, who damaged his T12 vertebra after falling out of a tree, the play is somewhat autobiographical. But, he says, it is really the story of all young people who have had trouble adjusting to debilitating injuries. "A lot of young men who have gone through such trauma will [turn to] alcohol and drugs because they feel they have nothing to live for," he says. Jack, a composite of such young men whom Paul has known, must overcome cycles of addiction and depression before moving forward with his life.
Next spring Get Off will make its full-stage debut at the Kitchen Theatre in Ithaca as part of its 2006 new play festival. Rachel Lampert, the Kitchen's artistic director, says that the theater is glad to work with Paul, who shows promising talent. "Clearly, Paul has made a huge commitment to his work," she says. "We are glad to be able to support him at the beginning of his career. It's an interesting play, and Paul's an interesting man."
Currently working on a master's degree in English and creative writing at SUNY Binghamton while teaching writing as an adjunct at Tompkins Cortland Community College, Paul remains humble about the attention his play is generating. "This is all really exciting," he says. "But there are so many talented writers out there. It just goes to show that a lot of this writing business has to do with having the right people look at your project at the right time." Timing may be everything, but as any "overnight success" would say, it still means nothing without the work to back it up.Photos by George Sapio