Award-winning playwright shows off documentary, archive

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Photo Credit: Amanda Saunders

Tony and Emmy Award-winning playwright and LGBTQ activist Terrence McNally visited UT Sunday to screen a documentary about his life and to display selections from his career archive. Some of McNally’s most award-winning works include the play “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and the musical “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” 

The screening was held at the Texas Union Theatre and was hosted by the Harry Ransom Center in partnership with the locally based ZACH Theatre. It was part of a weekend of events celebrating McNally’s 80th birthday. 

The documentary, “Every Act of Life,” profiles the life and career of McNally. The film details his six decades of creative writing, fighting for LGBTQ rights and his personal struggles with addiction, cancer and love. 

“It’s easy to forget how cutting-edge he was because we’ve come so far,” actor Billy Porter said in the documentary. “Terrence McNally was one of the first people … to write about an openly gay man.”

One of the main inspirations in McNally’s early life was Maureen McElroy, his high school English teacher in Corpus Christi. McNally said he is thankful for McElroy because she was one of the few people in his early life to believe in his work and passion.

“I think she got me when no one else did,” McNally said during the event. “She thought what I did was important and not silly. It all comes back to Ms. McElroy. She (influences) all my plays, all my work, all my life.”

After the documentary screening and discussion with McNally, the Harry Ransom Center opened a display of selections from McNally’s archive, including photographs, scripts from his work on stage and on television, and various articles and reviews of his work. The exhibit, “Stories to Tell,” is open until Feb. 19. 

Theater freshman Nick Saldivar attended the event because he said he fell in love with McNally’s musicals after being introduced to them by his high school theater director. 

“My main takeaway (from the event) was to perform what you love and write what you love, to know what you’re doing and writing … and always make sure to live passionately,” Saldivar said. “All the different aspects in his life — they never made him cold, and they never made him cynical. He just powered through it. Everything he goes through is his process.”