TODD MCGINNIS PLAYWRIGHT and SCREENWRITER – DETAILED BIOGRAPHY:
Todd McGinnis has enjoyed great success writing for stage, independent movies and alternative live-performance venues.
A natural-born story-teller, Todd was drawn to writing, acting and filmmaking in his early years. Throughout the 1980’s he pursued these separate disciplines always with an eye towards finding projects that would allow him to combine his talents.
Through the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, Todd studied all manner of media production with film and television production being his main focus. He wrote and produced numerous independent and student short films as well as corporate and industrial videos.
In the mid-90’s, having freelanced on the technical side of film/video production and finding himself further and further distanced from the “creative end” of the process, he decided to start over, return to his root interests: writing and acting.
In a very short time Todd became a very busy working actor in live theatre, and so, with the means and time required to produce his own films temporarily beyond his grasp, but still anxious to continue to hone and develop his writing skills, Todd chose to focus his full attention on writing for the stage and live performance.
After scripting Manuscript for Murder, for Brampton’s Interactive Murder Mystery dinner theatre company in early 1996, Todd was asked by the City of Brampton’s Arts Council to co-author, with William Poulin, a truly frightening, plot-driven, Interactive Halloween Haunting experience as a seasonal fund-raiser. This first haunting, with a plot rooted in local history, was so successful (and scary) that he and co-author William Poulin were asked to come up with another one for 1997 as well.
Shortly thereafter, Todd became the first Canadian hired to write the festival-day in-house scripts for the American-owned Ontario Renaissance Festival in 1999 along with researcher/writer John Lunman.
In 2000, along with Tracy Rowland, Todd co-founded Playing After Dark Ltd., a theatre company based in Brampton, Ontario with a mandate to create and premiere new comedic works with broad audience appeal. These were to be shows that provided adults with a great evening’s entertainment but more than that, something they could share with friends and family, from teens to seniors.
The company’s very successful debut, in March 2001, was Knave of Hearts, a farce set in Renaissance England that follows the hilarious misadventures of a fast-talking, swashbuckling con-man named Jack Hawkins. This four man/four woman ensemble piece whirls about Jack and his desperate attempts to play matchmaker for two unlikely couples in order to avoid being forced into an unwanted marriage himself. Favourable comparisons were heaped on the show, likening elements of it to everything from Shakespeare to Ray Cooney, from Molière to Blackadder, from Mel Brooks to Monty Python and John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers. Audiences raved, local reviewers enthused and on the strength of this one script alone, Todd was commissioned to write two new works.
One commission was for a series of scripts comprising an entire Renaissance Festival day by Artistic Director David Cairns for Camelot Era Productions.
The second commission came from the Brampton Theatre Office’s newly-formed theatrical production division when Scott Lale, Fellow of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, requested a Halloween-themed full-length work “that would truly scare”. This was a tremendous opportunity for McGinnis to work in one of the most challenging arena’s of storytelling: horror. Even more, the show had to be suitable for all ages (or, at least 12 and older), accommodate a large cast and an extremely limited performance space.
But McGinnis rose to the challenge. He made the playhouse itself the setting for the play and deftly wove together an evening of thematically-linked vignettes, spanning the 20th Century, and telling the tale of a haunted playhouse and of those who are touched by the curse laid upon it. The resulting, Stage Fright Or… “Laugh?” I Thought I’d DIE! (a.k.a. Stage Fright), an evening of side-splitting laughter and absolutely terrifying chills, was presented at the Heritage theatre in October 2001.
This marked something of a personal achievement for McGinnis because, while Stage Fright Or… “Laugh?” I Thought I’d DIE! was running at the Heritage Theatre, Playing After Dark was presenting Thunderbolts and Dunderheads, the other play McGinnis had completed that year, uptown at the Cyril Clark Theatre.
As the title suggests, Thunderbolts and Dunderheads is a laugh-minute farce that opened to great reviews and audience response. Set amongst the Greek Gods of Mount Olympus, Thunderbolts and Dunderheads follows the misadventures of Iris, the quirky but loveable Goddess of Rainbows who goes to Mount Olympus looking for a promotion and instead finds herself in danger of being down-sized.
Different as they might be, the scripts for Stage Fright Or… “Laugh?” I Thought I’d DIE! and Thunderbolts and Dunderheads wound up competing with each other at the First Annual Bloom Awards for the Performing Arts for the Best Original Script Award. Thunderbolts and Dunderheads took the prize, but McGinnis was equally thrilled by his memories of the terrified shrieks and gasps of the audiences at Stage Fright Or… “Laugh?” I Thought I’d DIE!
2002/2003 saw McGinnis complete three more stage projects.
The first, a sensual, sexual and truly unnerving one act thriller called Trammel the Cull, which shone a unique light on the areas of male/female sexual dynamics, courting rituals and serial killers. The play took top honours at the 2002 B.B.D.F. One Act Play Festival.
The next play, a comedy to be staged by Playing After Dark, was a step away from smooth-talking swashbucklers and goofy gods and goddesses.
In fact, Gone Fishin’, was a downright down-to-earth affair. In this highly entertaining and emotionally moving play about three estranged brothers (sentenced to spend an entire day fishing together as a condition of their late father’s will), McGinnis had set himself a challenge: could he write a full-length comedy that took place entirely in a small boat in the middle of a lake and make it compelling, entertaining and fulfilling for audiences? The answer was “Yes”, he could, as was proven when Gone Fishin’ brought an even greater level of success and acclaim to the company. Audiences were both delightedly amused and deeply moved by this contemporary exploration of sibling rivalry and the loss of a parent.
Having created in Gone Fishin’ a terrific comedic a showcase for the talents of three male actors, there was only one way to follow up such a success.
It was time to give the ladies equal stage time.
In early 2003, Playing After Dark staged Todd’s latest work, Point of Viewing, a behind the scenes comedy about three women who co-host a top-rated daytime tv talk show, featuring three tremendous leading roles for women. Witty, edgy, sharp, funny, goofy… and real, the ladies of Point of Viewing were all those things, allowing the author to deftly sweep the audience from high-energy farce to heart-wrenching emotional breakthroughs and back to laughter again.
With only a cast of five, Point of Viewing zeroes in on its target by throwing its female leads into a maelstrom of gossip-magazine revelations, backstage politics and charged up emotional breakthroughs. The result is a hilariously disastrous — and ultimately, emotionally moving — live-to-air tv broadcast. Once again, audiences and reviewers were delightedly in agreement.
Over the fall and winter of 2003-2004, Playing After Dark’s production of Gone Fishin’ was selected to inaugurate and open the first-ever NewWorks Playwright’s Festival in 2004.
Meanwhile, Todd had teamed up with friend and fellow playwright T. Gregory Argall (Award-Winning author of countless one act plays including A Year In The Death Of Eddie Jester, the full length version of which won the Samuel French Canadian Playwriting Competition in 2003).
Together, this inspired pair of mad comic geniuses came up with the insanely funny, laugh-a-minute comedySelf-Help for Dummies.
A seven character ensemble piece about a very strange bunch of strangers left to their own devices when their self-absorbed psychologist fails to show up at his office on time, Self-Help for Dummies premiered in October 2004 to rave reviews and audience response and was soon thereafter selected for the singular honour of opening the 2nd Annual NewWorks Playwright Festival in 2005.
Before the remount of Self-Help for Dummies, however, Kitchener-Waterloo Little Theater would become the first company to purchase the rights to produce their own rendition of one of Todd’s Playing After Dark-era comedies. Fittingly, it was the first one Knave of Hearts.
This was dream come true for McGinnis, and a watershed moment for the Author. Some people he’d never met or heard of had fallen in love with his play (published and represented at the time by Directplays.com) and had purchased the rights to do their own version. And they did so “brilliantly”, delighting the Author himself and many of the original cast of Knave of Hearts and of the then-current cast of Self-Help for Dummies, who were able to attend the delightful KWLT production.
Over the years since then, production after production of McGinnis’s plays have been staged throughout North America and his plays have been read, his monologues performed around the globe. But that KWLT production of Knave of Hearts will always hold a special place in his heart.
“That was the moment that the final phase of the Playing After Dark dream was first realised. We’d mounted a brand new play, entertained and delighted people with it and made it available to the world… But would anyone else pick it up and decide to do their own production? That would be the final validation that what we had created had value beyond a local context, proof that we had given something to the world at large. And KWLT’s production of Knave of Hearts could not have been a better welcome into that wider sphere of influence. I loved every second of it. And since I had starred in the original, and thus, been onstage the whole time… it was something quite different to sit in the middle of a laughing, giggling audience, hearing them being delighted by words I’d written and enjoying those words in a fresh new incarnation as they came out of the mouths of some very talented strangers. I simply couldn’t have been happier.”
In the spring of 2005, Playing After Dark Ltd. staged an all-new production of the hilarious Thunderbolts and Dunderheads, this time at the Heritage Theatre. Response was universal: people loved the goofy Goddess of Rainbows, Iris and the pantheon of strange gods who seemed determined to make her day as difficult as possible.
This was followed by the NewWorks remount of Self-Help for Dummies in June to even larger and more enthusiastic audiences than had seen it only 8 months prior in the same theater!
From 2006 though 2007, Todd was largely occupied with acting work in independent films and with attempting to expand awareness and distribution of his plays in book form.
Knave of Hearts, Thunderbolts and Dunderheads, Gone Fishin’, Point of Viewing, Stage Fright Or… “Laugh?” I Thought I’d DIE!, and Trammel the Cull became available for sale in paperback by the end of this period. And establishing and running the rights management process for these works was a time-consuming process.
At the same time, as a result of his ever growing body of work in film/tv production as an actor, Todd found himself once again surrounded by a new community performers and producers in need of stellar scriptwork. His return to screenwriting was beginning. Starting with an adaptation/expansion of Trammel the Cull into a feature film screenplay.
In late 2007, Todd was asked to “direct anything he wanted so long as it had a romantic theme”, for a dinner theater in the coming year’s February/March “Valentine’s” slot.
He siezed the opportunity and re-teamed with T. Gregory Argall to create IN-SECURITY: An Alarmingly Romantic Comedy. This hilarious and heart-warming new romantic comedy play was immediately premiered by Stellar Productions at the Queen Elizabeth Dinner Theatre in Aurora. The production, directed by McGinnis, was yet another instant hit, resulting in great word of mouth and growing audiences over the course of its run from February to March of 2008.
The remainder of 2008 found Todd again busy acting, he closed out the year working in independent films as an actor, rights-managing increasing numbers of productions of his stageworks, and getting down to work on some feature screenplay work.
In the fall of 2008, Stellar Productions purchased the rights to open their 2008/2009 season with an all-new production of McGinnis’s play Point of Viewing. And around the same time, highschool, dinner and community theater productions of Thunderbolts and Dunderheads and Gone Fishin’ as well as Self-Help for Dummies began happening with greater and greater frequency all over North America. Every single play Todd McGinnis had written and produced under the Playing After Dark banner had taken on a new life of its own. And the success story continues to this day as book sales and monologue use spread awareness of this talened writer’s works around the world.
In 2010, after 6 years in publication and multiple productions, the authors were forced to rename “Self-Help for Dummies” to “Self-Help By Dummiez” because the owners of the “for Dummies” trademark seemed to think that people might confuse a stage-play for a self-help manual.
However… the name change did no damage and productions in Lousiana, Iowa, Iowa again, and Sudbury proved that the hilarity is in no danger of slowing down.
In 2011, Samuel French/Baker’s Plays became the official publisher/rights manager for Stage Fright Or… “Laugh?” I Thought I’d DIE!
With his legacy of plays still gaining in awareness and popularity throughout the world, Mr. McGinnis now directs his writing energies towards film production. And divides the rest of his time between acting and providing script consultation services.
His adaptation of his award-winning psychological thriller Trammel the Cull into a feature-length screenplay is already enjoying industry interest with impressive placings in the Scriptapalooza Worldwide Screenplay and WildSound Screenplay Competitions. Three of his other screenplays go before the lens in 2013.
His screenplay for the SciFi-Thriller “The Never Man” earned its way into the top 20 of the Cinecoup National Film Accelerator Competition and continues in development.
“Blur”, a Drama co-written with director George D’Amato goes in front of the lens in August 2013.
His Comedy-Thriller screenplay “Dirty Diamonds” is in development.
And he has just been signed by Temple Entertainment to write a screenplay that goes to production in August 2013 as well.
In May of 2013, the City of Brampton honored Todd McGinnis with an Arts Acclaim Award celebrating his accomplishments as a playwright.
And Todd completed the script for “Smash, Bash & Crabbe”, a Pirate-themed Comedy and Stage Combat show that has delighted young pirates and old for the past three years at the Milton Pirate Festival, and he is developing a One-Woman Show for Actress Alysa King… so clearly he’s not done with writing for the stage at all.
In June, 2013, the short film “Shelly”, which Todd scripted for an entry into the Toronto 48 Hour Film Challenge took the Audience Choice Award for Best Film and is now beginning its rounds on the movie festival circuit.
The past couple years have seen new screenplays commissioned and put into development. Details on production and screenings will be made available as they come up.
In the spring of 2014, MCA/Universal chose monologues from two of Todd’s plays as the official, mandatory qualifying audition pieces for performers competing in their Star Project as part of the American Black Film Festival (ABFF). The monologue for women was an Iris monologue from Thunderbolts and Dunderheads, while the men’s monologue was one of Harrison’s from Gone Fishin’.
Most recently, BLUR the film he scribed with Director George D’Amato has had first screenings in NYC and Toronto to tremendous applause for its artistry and originality and Todd’s much-anticipated introductory seminar on writing (YOU CAN WRITE! An Intro to Writing & Storytelling For Screenwriters, Playwrights, & Novelists with Todd McGinnis) has been garnering rave reviews from participants and offers new and emerging writers key insights into the process allowing them to achieve their writing goals. At the time of this writing the seminar is returning to Toronto by popular demand for a third outing in as many months.
More informative seminars and classes will follow with two books on writing by Todd slated for publication by mid-2016.
One thing is certain… whether it’s from “page to stage” or from “script to screen” Todd McGinnis is just getting warmed up.
See you at the classes, openings and red carpets…. : )