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For Asheville Playwright Monica McDaniel, Faith and Google are Her Roadmaps

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Monica McDaniel didn’t grow up with theater and hasn’t seen much theater as an adult. So even she can’t quite answer why she thought about writing her first play.

“I was sitting at a family member’s house, watching TV and I was like “What would you think if I did a play?’ And she was like ‘OK?” And I just went home and wrote a play,” McDaniel recalled. “I feel like God gives me something and I go with it.”

Faith is an ever-present guiding light for McDaniel. The Asheville native has raised a daughter alone since her birth, found a calling in childcare, processed the pain of her mother’s death and weathered a recent threat of homelessness—all, she says, under a divine plan.

So in writing poetry, short stories and, most recently, plays, McDaniel sees a higher purpose. Her newest play is “Left-Behind Reflection,” a retelling with a new twist of a gospel-tinged play she wrote several years ago about a teenage girl’s battle with heroin addiction.

Performances run Nov. 30 through Dec. 8 at the 35 Below space at Asheville Community Theatre.

“God comes out big in my plays,” McDaniel said. “Even when people don’t realize that’s the direction I’m going in, that’s the direction I’m going in.”

McDaniel was raised in Asheville’s Shiloh neighborhood. She bounced from AB Tech to Mars Hill University to Haywood Community College, and when she found a job in childcare, she mainly appreciated having weekends off. She’s now 20 years into that career.

Through it all, McDaniel has written.

“I always wrote about love and passion and affection,” she said. “I’m either really raw or just crying a river about something.”

McDaniel said her mother always championed her writing, and it wasn’t long after her mother died, 12 years ago, that she came up with the story behind her first play. She had no guide or role model for writing it, just a calling.

“I feel it was divinely inspired. I laid in bed the whole night and thought the whole thing through and just put it on paper,” she said. “When you have Google, Google will guide you through everything. I knew how to write it, it’s just putting it together and actually doing it.”

McDaniel cast family and friends in her first play, and McDaniel angered them enough during rehearsals that half the cast quit before the one and only performance. Today, she looks to cast people she knows, but not too well, before even beginning the writing process.

“I have to find the people so I could write around their personalities,” she said. “To know them is to write what would he say and how would he say it, and even though I wrote the play one way, the cast and I recreate so we can bring out their personalities within the play.”

McDaniel recently wrote a play for the Fletcher author James Blount, adapting his novel “Whatever Happened to Charlie Boy,” and plans next year to write a play steeped into the #Me Too Movement.

“If I could live off my writing today, that’s all I would do is write,” she said. “I feel like I’m 40 and want to step out of the box more and do more with my writing. I have to keep grinding in order for my name to be out there and for people to know what I’m capable of doing.”


Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.
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