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Meet a member: William Missouri Downs is prolific playwright

William Missouri Downs

Name: William Missouri Downs.

Where I live: Denver, Colo.

Where and when I was born: The Midwest, a long time ago.

Education: MFA in acting from the University of Illinois, MFA in screenwriting from UCLA. I learned to write plays at the Circle Rep Theatre in New York.

Occupation: Playwright.  

How I got where I am today: I got here by writing six to eight hours a day. I was an actor, but bad at it, so I began writing. It took decades, but I eventually got jobs writing for NBC sitcoms in Hollywood. I was a staff writer on the NBC sitcom “My Two Dads” and a freelance writer on “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Amen.”

There have been more than 350 productions of my plays and musicals. The play that FFRF members would enjoy most is my comedy, “The Exit Interview,” published by Concord, an existential romp through atheism. I’ve also written four books, including The Art of Theatre, a textbook now in its fourth edition, which 100,000 college students have used. I’ve directed 40 plays and have won many writing awards. You can check out my website (williammissouridowns.com) for more information.

Where I’m headed: I have no idea. I don’t have goals. Every time I set a goal, I fail. Instead, I wait for something good to happen and, after the fact, say it was my goal and where I was heading. This guarantees success! 

Person in history I admire and why: Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet. They were the ultimate enlightenment power couple. Viktor Frankl because his book Man’s Search for Meaning gives the clearest thoughts on how to live life. Buster Keaton because he makes me laugh at the absurd. 

A quotation I like: “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.” From Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

Things I like: Getting up at 3 a.m. and writing. Intelligent conversation. Well-written practical philosophy books. Reading William and Ariel Durant. A good movie that doesn’t follow tired Hollywood formulas. Seeing my plays produced by good directors and actors. Dogs. 

Things I smite: Living in the gutted world of the Corporate States of America, where everything is judged by its dollar value. Monthly wars. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade being an advertisement for Wheaties and wetland preservation. Fend-for-yourself megastores. People who ride motorcycles and snowmobiles in the mountains. Bizarre presidents. Trash on Mount Everest. Sirens and backup alarms.

My doubts about religion started: At birth. No, really, I’ve never had a foot in religion. Sometimes I’ve leaned toward deism, but that’s about as close as I’ve ever gotten. Several girlfriends tried to convert me, but even the lure of sex wasn’t enough for me to accept that a perfect sky god designed the highly flawed human body. An average undergraduate engineering student could design a better human body than “God” did. A great writer doesn’t write crap, and a great god couldn’t have designed the male prostate gland.

Before I die: I’d like to get a little better at living a life of the mind.

Ways I promote freethought: For many years, I taught a class at the University of Wyoming on atheism, agnosticism and deism, which covered everyone from Robert Ingersoll to Ayn Rand and Thomas Paine to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It was one of the few such classes in the country. (It is no longer being offered.) In my plays, I sometimes write about people who question. Perhaps if I hadn’t, I would’ve been more successful.

I wish you’d have asked me: My philosophy of life is that humans cannot derive meaning by looking at the universe. Meaning for us, temporary tiny beings on this lonely planet, can only come day to day and hour to hour. Here’s what all world religions never understood: You can’t extract meaning from vastness.