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Program for...

It's Complicated...This Gift of Life

by Michelle Pauls

Directed by Carly L Bodnar

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Vox Populi Gallery,

319 N 11th Street,

Phila PA 19107


Show dates and times:

September 15 @ 7:00pm

September 16 @ 9:00pm

September 17 @ 7:00pm (Talk back with John Branton, organ recipient)

September 18 @ 6:00pm (Talk back with Naila Francis of Salt Trails)

September 22 @ 7:00pm

September 23 @ 9:00pm

Dana Capanna: 


ER Doctor

Woman in airport

Michelle Pauls:

Anthony Diaz:




Alan Cohen

Danny, Workshop Leader

Miranda Watkins, Stage Manager, DJ M

From the playwright:

This piece is semi-autobiographical. That means it is not exactly like life, or, what happens in the show did not happen to me, exactly. 

I will leave it up to you to decide which parts are "real" and which parts come from "poetic license." Or, you could buy me a drink and ask me to tell you afterward. What I will say is that I struggled with these two questions: Who am I doing this piece and why am I doing it?

For the first question, I am the Michelle of now, telling a story of yesterday. And of today, because I am not the same person I was. Well, no one is. We all change all the time. How do we change and what will we do with the leftovers of that change? Aye, there's the rub! I will be honest that wearing so many hats (playwright, actor, producer) has not been easy. I used to love all that hustle, always being busy, never stopping. The me of now sees the value in stopping, in breathing, in being quiet, in just being. What a balancing act this has been!

Which brings me to the second question: Why am I doing this? We all have stories to tell. Some stories are happy, funny, make us chuckle or sigh. Some stories crack us open and force us to look inside, in the deep, dark recesses that hold so much of everything. Isn't it better just to keep going, really fast and not look? Not for me. In all the darkest moments of doubt and failure, one driving force has been constant: despair or go deeper. I refuse to follow the binary pattern that seems to unconsciously present itself: that there is only cause and effect. There is miracle--in poetry, in art there is the mystical engine. And that is what I want to share with you. Yes, this is "my story." But, when you see it, hear it, feel it, it then belongs to you. My gift to you. You are free to do with it as you want. Once it's set free, it doesn't belong to just me anymore. We all are owed the dignity of taking up space.

An article by Naila Francis of This Hallowed Wilderness. Naila led a talkback after the 9/18 performance. Here are some of her reflections:

"An immersive, interactive exploration of one woman’s journey to make sense of her husband’s sudden death and the impact of his organ donation, as well as to reconcile their ruptured relationship prior to his death, the play is a deeply honest, moving and funny look at grief, death, mental illness and the struggle to be present to those experiences in a culture that turns away from them."


Here is a clip of Michelle & Carly interviewed on KYW Newsradio on the program, I'm Listening!

Our segment was about the artist and mental health. Thank you, Patty McMahon for your unwaivering journalistic truth-seeking!

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A short history:
Michelle, Stan, Edgar Allen & the Poettes, B. Someday Productions, Walking Fish Theatre

I first met Stan Heleva around 1996. He was a published poet and had hosted the Great New Hope Poetry Slam to much acclaim. He wanted to get into drama and to set his poetry to rock music. We started off band practice for Edgar Allen & The Poettes, getting ready for our first gig, the AIDS Walk in October 1996. Stan wasn't a singer and didn't play an instrument, he just had all the tunes and arrangements in his head. We had great collaborators along the way, including some that are in The Poettes with me today--Max and Dave. While the music was happening, Stan and I started doing plays--he wrote some, I wrote a couple, we created others together. Such a magical time. Stan and his partner, Tad already had a 501-c-3 non-profit designation from the poetry publication they were doing so we just added more on to it. Bloody Someday Productions became B. Someday Productions (after the tragedy of 9/11). Stan and I were married, and after a few years, become parents. We had to make a choice: music or theatre? It was bittersweet when we stopped gigging and concentrated on making theatre. After a few years, we found the perfect spot to house our theatre--2509 Frankford Ave in Kensington. We were pioneers! We loved being the only arts or cool place to hang out there (besides Rocket Cat Cafe). So much going on at The Fish. We produced mostly original plays, burlesque shows, musical events, fundraising parties, educational opportunities, family theatre programs, programs for high school students in Kensington (where we were awarded our Barrymore), stand-up comedy, even yoga. Alas, ours was an unsustainable business model (do everything and never have enough money) and we made the very difficult decision to close Walking Fish Theatre in the mid-2010s. 

Stan Heleva was the author of hundreds of published poems, dozens of songs and many plays. 

I feel such pride when I think about our legacy, what we were able to accomplish, who we met and were able to help get to the next step. All the lives we touched! Life is short, art is long. 

Here is an interview Michelle & Carly did with A. D. Amorosi for Theater in the Round:


TITR on Soundcloud:

A short video from rehearsal, with the ending of I Used to Know, recorded by The Poettes, with thanks to Bill Rhatican

Artist Bios

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Michelle Pauls (she/her), Playwright, Actor, Producer

Michelle Pauls, AEA, SAG-AFTRA, is a theatre artist, educator and writer.  She created, wrote, directed and acted in the pandemic art mini-web series, SPEAKING OF FAMILY…

Michelle can also be seen in the HBO series, Mare of Easttown, and as Dr Poostein in the webseries, Certifiable

(Season 2 coming soon!). For over 20 years she ran her own theatre company in Philadelphia (B. Someday/Walking Fish Theatre) where she produced mostly original work. She has worked as an actor mostly in the NY/PA region and won a Barrymore Award in 2010 from the Philadelphia Theatre Alliance. She is on faculty at Penn State Abington where she teaches acting and devising and just developed a new course integrating performance with Health Humanities.  She is a trained facilitator in Theatre of the Oppressed and recently received certification in Positive Psychology with the WholeBeing Institute. She is a founding member and lead singer with the rock band, The Poettes. Her grief work includes examining and writing about the loss of her marriage and her husband, as well as continuing work on the Passage Project–using theatre tools to help those on hospice and their families celebrate life and choose a death worth living for. Michelle is a member of the Dramatists Guild, the Philadelphia Dramatist Center and is part of the inaugural PlayPenn Playwriting Cohort.

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Dana Lee Capanna (she/her), Actor

Dana is a Philadelphia-based theatre and dance artist, and is so honored to be a part of this year's Fringe Festival and play a role in the telling of this particular story. She was last seen as Callie in STOP KISS with South Camden Theatre Company in collaboration with The Strides Collective. Dana would like to thank Michelle and Carly for this opportunity and the folks in the audience for supporting the work that we've done. Happy Fringe, everyone!

Miranda Watkins (they/them), Stage Manager
Carly L Bodnar (she/they) Director

Carly L. Bodnar is a Philadelphia based screen and stage director who also works as a teaching artist, coach, and performer. Film directing credits; Chimera, The Tone You Used to Have. Theatrical directing credits; The Bed Show (Off-Broadway SohoPlayhouse/Unattended Baggage), Pericles, Prince of Tyre (Shakespeare in Clark Park), Romeo and Juliet (Lantern Theater Company), Twelve Chairs (Juniper Productions), The Helen Project, Jimmy Gorski is Dead (ReVamp Collective), Blithe Spirit (Hedgerow Theatre Company), Company, Arcadia (La Salle University). Associate/Assistant Directed;  Arden Theatre Company, Lantern Theater Company, Shakespeare in Clark Park, and Hedgerow Theatre Company. Carly was Interim Artistic Director of Shakespeare in Clark Park and is the Co-Artistic Director and founding member of ReVamp Collective, a feminist artist collective. Her training includes a BA in Theatre from Temple University with a minor in Art History. She is an alum of the 2018 Directors Lab West and the 2018-2019 SDC Observership pool. They were a Philadelphia Barrymore nominator for four years, a board member of Plays and Players Theatre from 2018-2021, and has been a Bay Area Playwrights Foundation Reader since 2019. Directors Gathering Member. SDC Associate Member 

For Terry Flynn Fagan who gave the Gift of Life. And for Billy Fagan, all my love!

Anthony Diaz, Actor

Anthony is a Philadelphia-based actor and graduate of Rutgers University, where he earned his BA in both English and Theater. In his Philly debut with the Latin X theater company, Teatro Del Sol, he played Creon in their production of Oedipus El Rey. He has also worked with Delaware Shakespeare Company, PAC, South Camden Theatre Company and has performed in a number of readings with Theatre Ariel. Always happy to be working locally, Anthony is honored and excited to be a part of The Gift of Life. He'd like to thank his family, friends and college mentor for their love and support.

James Jackson, 
Technical Support

Miranda Watkins is thrilled to be a part of the Fringe Fest for the first time! Their recent stage managing credits include Zooman and the Sign with Theatre in the X, The Rape of Lucertia with Temple University Opera Theater and Galilee with Azuka Theatre. Miranda is currently pursuing a BFA in Technical Production and Management at Temple University.


I started writing this story in a Writing Through Fear workshop with Maria Sirois. 

by Michelle Pauls

This is my first published non-theatre story. I wrote this in Spring 2021, six months after my husband had died. Trying to make some sense, or at least, some meaning out of it all.

Published in Grief Dialogues, August 12, 2021

Thank yous!

in no particular order

Kate McGrath (A BIG THANK YOU)

The estate of Robert J Pauls

Jennifer Blaine

Claire Golden Drake

Teresa Miller

Patty McMahon

Tony Ericchetti

Craig Liggeons

Teri Ramsay & By My Side

Jeanine Falciani

Madison Branch

Robert Weick

Rosemary Connors & Old Pine Community Center

Aja Beech

Allen Merry

Carol Spacht

Arlene M.

A. D. Amorosi

Kim R.

Kirsten Oates

Wendy Horwitz

T Max Guerin

Chris McDonough

Dave Rogers

Steph Young

Josie Skocik

Larry Willoughby

The Poettes!

Bill Rhatican

James Jackson

Christine Pugh

Rebecca Maury & Catherine Birdsall of Threshold Collective

Naila Francis & Salt Trails, This Hallowed Wilderness

Ken Bingham

Trinity Memorial Church

Brook Iarkowski & American Society of Transplantation

Lara Moretti & Gift of Life Donor Program

John Branton

Charlie DelMarcelle

Billy Fagan

Plays and Players

Raven Buck

Shakespeare in Clark Park 

Shamus Hunter McCarty

Theatre Exile 

A Thank You from Michelle...

I am so grateful for the fabulous artists that I have had the privilege of working with.

Melinda Watkins, what a treasure! Thank you for keeping us on course.

Dana Capanna & Anthony Diaz, we searched high and low for your particular blend of skill and spirit. Chef's kiss!

What would I have done without the fabulous Carly L Bodnar? Let me tell you, Carly is an amazing artist AND an amazing human being. Do you know when everything you need just sort of falls into place and you are standing there, dumbfounded with your good fortune and filled with gratitude? Well, that is how it is for me--finding Carly and working with her. We are simpatica in the way we looked at the world of this work. And she has gifts of communication and speaking her truth (with love) that I have been so grateful to learn from. Thank you, Carly!

Thank you Dana, Anthony & Melinda!

I love you!

Our Content Partners


Salt Trails Grief Cooperative and This Hallowed Wilderness will support the production as a grief professional and death midwife. Naila Francis will lend her expertise during a talkback discussion after the performance on Monday, September 18 @ 6:00pm.


Gift of Life Donor Program is the nation's leading organ procurement organization coordinating more organ and tissue donors than anywhere else in the United States. There will be an organ recipient, John Branton, speaking after the performance on September 17. Also present, Lara Moretti, Director, Family Support Services

Gift of Life Donor Program


The Threshold Collective, providing support in aging, death and dying issues, medical system navigation, and rights for the body and celebrations of life.

Mother Wisdom Speaks

by Christine Lore Weber

This poem was shared with my by  someone very close to me. They said it reminded them of me. 

Some of you I will hollow out.

I will make you a cave.

I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.

You will be a bowl.

You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain.

I will hollow you with knives.

I will not do this to make you clean.

I will not do this to make you pure

You are clean already.

You are pure already.

I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.

I will do this for the space that you will be.

I will do this because you must be large.

A passage.

People will find their way through you.

A bowl.

People will eat from you.

And their hunger will not weaken them to death.

A cup to catch the sacred rain.

My daughter, do not cry.

Do not be afraid.

Nothing you need will be lost.

I am shaping you.

I am making you ready.

Light will flow in your hollowing.

You will be filled with light.

Your bones will shine.

The round open center of you will be radiant.

I will call you brilliant one.

I will call you daughter who is wide.

I will call you transformed.

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