As a freshman at the College – then North Adams State – in 1986, Bill Doncaster decided to major in psychology. However, recognizing his talent for writing, an English composition professor took him aside to encourage a change in direction. The revelation led to a career in communications, which included work as a newspaper reporter and in public relations.
“That was the beginning of becoming an English major and exploring journalism,” Doncaster said. “Then, I wound up in an ‘Introduction to Theatre’ class. Pretty much everything stems from that.”
Nearly 30 years later, Doncaster is a playwright and producer whose play, “Two Boys Lost,” was this year’s Elliot Norton Award nominee for Outstanding New Script and Outstanding Production by a Fringe Company, as well as a 2015 Independent Reviewer of New England nominee for Best New Play.
“A Mended Memory” was a 2014 Kennedy Center American Theater Festival Region I Finalist.
Also the co-founder of Stickball Productions in Medford, Mass., Doncaster most recently was selected by SpeakEasy Stage as one of two playwrights for the 2016 Boston Project for his proposal of a play, “Ward 9.”
For “Two Boys Lost,” Doncaster drew on experiences he had working at a homeless shelter during the year he took off after his high school graduation, and before he arrived at the College.
“It explores homelessness and mental illness from the perspective of a whole family,” he explained. “It’s occurred to me for a very long time that when you see the homeless or mentally ill depicted in movies or plays, there’s a sense that they’ve been abandoned by their families.
“Having worked at the shelter years ago, it was very frequent that I’d get calls from families around Christmastime looking for people, so they could be together. I mostly was exploring the idea that they aren’t necessarily abandoned so much as they presented more than their families were equipped to handle.”
For “Ward 9,” Doncaster will explore a small-scale, ward-level city council race in a community he says will feel much like Everett or Revere, from the perspective of an adult with Down’s Syndrome who has been holding signs for politicians his entire life.
“The basic plot is, he has some things going on in his life so that he may have to move out of town, and he doesn’t want to. So, after years of doing favors and being people’s good luck charm, he’s going to call in some favors,” he explained.
Doncaster estimates he’s written some 80 plays, including short plays which have been produced in Boston, New York, Chicago, Louisiana and Florida.
In 2011, he co-founded Stickball Productions to produce his plays with MCLA alumna Maria Silaggi ’85. For their first production, they were joined by College alumni Rick Park ’86, who played a principle character, and Derrick Martin ’06, who served as stage manager.
To date, he’s produced two full-length plays, and another two are ready to go. Doncaster also has written several screenplays, including one that made its way to the top 5 percent of 4,000 submissions at the BlueCat Screenplay Competition.
His adaptation of George V. Higgins’ “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” played to sold-out performances first at OBERON, and then was part of the “Emerging America Festival” by invitation of the American Repertory Theater in 2012.
According to Doncaster, the two-and-a-half years he spent at North Adams State gave him “the best theater education I could have ever asked for.” Although he acknowledges the MFA he earned at Lesley University also was important, “I never really saw a play until I got to the College. It was really MCLA.”
Photo courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company