Clay’s Plays: A Brief Biography of My Creative Writing

(links to plays follow below)

I grew up a lonely child far from my home country. Apart from my brother Derek, who was quarrelsome and four years younger, books were my only companion for most of my years from two until I turned ten. As we moved from England to France to Turkey to Egypt, and finally back to the USA, books were the only reliable escape from an unruly world. Is it any wonder I yearned to become a writer?

My first attempt at a novel, penned soon after I graduated from college, was about a husband-and-wife relationship in dark turmoil. I can’t remember much about it, except that the woman had an epiphany while sitting at her toiletries table, brushing her hair. It arose when she noticed a second mirror behind her, and suddenly saw herself infinitely reflected between the two. Whoa! Very symbolic … right? After working on it for months, I read it to a small group of friends. A few pages in, they started laughing and one of them complimented me on my comic ability. I was devastated. The manuscript -- and it was literally that -- went into the bin. But the insult turned out to be prophetic. It would take me a long time to realize it, but I have just one mode of creative expression: satire.

Later in my twenties, I tried my hand at writing a play. It was about my maternal grandfather, Zelmer Earl Rice, known to all as “Z.E.” At the time, he was caring for my grandmother, Iva Mae, through the long, dark passage to death via senility. Her mind departed long before her body. I knew he felt burdened and lonely. My play imagined him consoling himself by recreating Warner Brothers cartoon characters as he went about his daily chores.

Was it any good? I have no idea. Probably not. Once it was done, I sent it off to a playwriting contest, heard nothing back, and didn’t try again for more than thirty years. In 2017, following the astonishing election victory of Donald Trump, a man known to everyone but his supporters as a liar, cheater, sexual predator, and serial bankrupt, I again retreated into the realm of imagination and created a pilot for a sitcom. I entered it in a screenplay contest. This time, I did hear back, and although I came nowhere close to winning, I got genuinely encouraging remarks from the reviewer.

In 2022, as retirement from my post as executive director of Lincoln Literacy approached, I joined the Angels Theatre Company -- more particularly, their playwriting collective. To gain a place at the table, I wrote a sketch about a scientist and a preacher on comic confrontation. It evolved -- I pray you pardon the expression -- into the final scene of my post-retirement play: Mix & Machinate. To my surprise and joy, the play got a three-day run on stage at the gorgeous Benson Theatre in Omaha, and won second place in the “Best of Fest” audience voting at the 2023 Omaha Fringe Festival. More on that play and my subsequent efforts below. To have a look at the scripts, click the titles.

The Réal American Café
The election may be over, but the debate continues at the immigrant-owned Réal American Café. Meanwhile, the town’s new mayor works to “restore” biblical values.

Mix & Machinate
(This play won second place in “Best of Fest” audience voting at the 2023 Omaha Fringe Festival.)
America's polarization problem erupts in unintended hilarity when budget cuts force radically different people to share the mic on community radio station KOMM-FM.

AI Coining
The Cleanup Lady Makes It All Better
In this satirical fable for the AI age, startup firm ColossalDX soars until its AI investment system bets millions in teacher retirement funds on an insane product reboot, leaving refugee Sophy, a humble cleaner, to try to set things right.

Burning Library!
Torching the Library
As AI wipes out jobs, two very different people find themselves flung together in one of the few remaining workplacest: a celebrity’s lifestyle workshop, where the product calls into question their core values.