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Q&A: Actor/Writer Paden Fallis on "Dark at the End of the Tunnel"

Paden Fallis is an actor and writer whose second full-length solo play, DARK AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL, performs October 24th as part of the United Solo Festival in New York. It’s the story of a blind man who wakes up lost and confused, fearing he may have killed a man. Desperate for answers, he delves into his childhood, his loss of sight, regrets, and his strange fascination with US General Curtis LeMay. Theatre Jones described it as “the acting equivalent to a gymnast’s floor routine.” Developed through a residency at The Field with input from Visions services for the visually impaired, it shares themes of blindness—both literally and figuratively—with Fallis’ first piece, THE PLAY ABOUT THE COACH. That play convincingly creates an entire college basketball game from the coach’s point of view. Both pieces have received critical acclaim, with runs at Dallas’ Out of the Loop Festival, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and The Kitchen, The Tank, and The Peoples Improv Theatre (PIT) in New York. Paden joined us to discuss the plays, his own connection to their common themes, and what’s next for him.

stated: Tell us about your character in Dark at the End of the Tunnel. What inspired you to create him?

PADEN FALLIS: This is the story of a blind man who commits a murder. This is not the story of someone who needs a hug or your help walking across the street.

I’m not interested in easy designations…compassion for those who are impaired in some way is all good and fine but has no place in this story… We view the blind as people we should pity, instead of real people. He’s an individual, he’s culpable, he’s responsible…we’re not brushing in broad strokes. This is a story of a man who happens to be blind.

He’s still coming together in my mind. I’m constantly surprised, constantly flummoxed, and constantly challenged by this character…half the time I ask, “who is this guy?”

stated: Is the piece based on or inspired by any real people or events?

PADEN FALLIS: It was a classic New York moment. I saw a blind man with a cane walking down East 25th Street a couple of years back. He was moving recklessly; ran smack into a stop sign but kept moving, hit his knee against a fire hydrant but didn’t stop. People were literally jumping out of his way. I followed him for a few blocks and I thought to myself, “what the hell’s that guy’s story?”

So, I’ve spent the past few years trying to find it. Where was he going? Where was he coming from? Possibilities are endless…so I picked one and ran with it…

Paden Fallis on Stated MagazineDark at the End of the Tunnelstated: Your characters in Dark at the End of the Tunnel and The Play About The Coach both have vision problems and sort of “come apart” in front of us. Is there a common theme? What do you think it is that draws you to these characters? Do you have experience with blindness or disability in your family?

PADEN FALLIS: I’m a glaucoma suspect (hereditary, father has it)—I don’t have it, but I will get it. It’s unavoidable as health always deteriorates. With early detection, it’s treatable, but I guess it was a hell of a thing to hear at the age of 21. So I guess that early diagnosis has stuck with me to a degree.

Look, there’s the whole thing of figurative blindness—what are we blind to, what do we choose not to see, turn a blind eye, etc. I don’t consciously think about these ideas, but they are obviously swirling around in my mind. If you’re Arthur Miller, you can have an agenda. The rest of us…

Both this character and the character from The Coach are blind to many things in their life—its oftentimes just too painful and frankly they are both stubborn. Both deal with that sense of tunnel vision—two men who seem to have a problem opening up their viewpoint…they are both locked-in, and locked-in, sadly, to their demise. I mean, these guys can’t get out of their own way. I’m fascinated by what we see but are helpless to change…

stated: How do you think the two men are different or similar in the two pieces?

PADEN FALLIS: Both these guys are both dealing with loss. Everything I’ve written somehow deals with loss–how we acknowledge it, deal with it. These guys find themselves in this cycle they can’t out of.

I’m afraid they are all too similar… I’m careful about using the word existential, cause it digs up a lot of ideas for people, but they are both in an existential loop, hitting their heads on that same ceiling, never able to transcend and get to the next stage of life. The Coach literally can not get over the hump…this man in Dark constantly fights the state of “resignation”…he doesn’t want to give in, but life is hitting him with some unbelievable shit…

These plays concern themselves with loss. The Coach more directly, but Dark as well, mimic the Old Testament story of Job—how much agony, loss and heartache can one man take?

The Play About the Coach

stated: Both pieces also leave the audience a bit “in the dark” on certain points, which is clearly intentional. Do you find audiences create their own answers? Do you know the full story?

PADEN FALLIS: Yes, they both leave things open-ended, primarily in regards to their most intimate relationships. So there’s that.

I’m probably a little scared of overstating things. I feel more comfortable when I can sort of infer rather than spell things out. I’m not sure if I need to have all the answers.

Yes, I do have ideas…are they crystal clear? I don’t know…but I don’t feel compelled to have all the answers…is that a rookie mistake? Maybe… It’s my job to leave the audience full, but does that entail being able to check every box? What’s more, I like to hear what people create. It’s revelatory. Honestly, it can help with the storytelling—we all use the audience as collaborators, right?

stated: That’s what makes live theatre unique. Now, you were an actor first. How did you start writing and what do you think drew you to it?

PADEN FALLIS: Necessity, really. It’s an age-old story that most actors find themselves in the position of not getting enough work, so what do you do? I probably took too long to get into the “writing phase” of my career, but I’m hooked. I love it. I’m a little surprised by how much I’ve taken to it. I am loner by nature, and the act of writing fits my personality like hand to glove.

stated: How do you find it different working on something you’ve written yourself versus someone else’s work? (Other than the fact it must be completely exhausting to have it all on your shoulders…)

PADEN FALLIS: Well, you can certainly play to your strengths, though I must admit that playing with the condition of blindness is no walk in the park—seeing as there are no props and only two set pieces. It certainly takes away the things you can “indicate.” It’s easy to confuse the roles in rehearsal—for instance you don’t want you the playwright doing the acting and vice-versa—it’s a train wreck. Obviously, your words, your ideas, your acting, your emotion…a lot of eggs there, so the pressure can be high, but honestly, it’s nice to know where the buck stops. I can’t blame the playwright on this one. Or I guess I can, but at least it’s in my hands to fix it. Now when I work on someone else’s play, it’s a nice departure. You’re not as responsible.

Paden Fallis on Stated MagazineDark at the End of the Tunnelstated: Are you working on anything new beyond this piece? Are you still performing The Coach? It seems it would appeal a broader audience than your typical theatre crowd, particularly sports fans.

The Coach is ready to go at all times!!! Does everyone hear this?! It’s THE definitive sports play in American theatre—it’s my job to convince every producer in America that this is true… A lot of things in the hopper. A political satire revolving around several American politicians who all lost in their bid for the American Presidency, a play on Race, and I’m cobbling a piece together about a man who speaks only in idiomatic expressions… I’m also writing a show for a female actress right now. All of these pieces are all sort of at the starting gate, and I’m curious to see which one gets to the finish line first.

The Play About The Coach has something for everybody. I think it’s a hit in the making. Yes, we need the right venue, the right backers, the right crowd. It’s not typical, for sure, but if we keep playing to the same crowds, we’ll never grow.

One shout out—there is no such thing as a one-man show. I’ve been lucky to work with two great crews. With The Coach, Tom Ridgely is a keen and imaginative director and Phillip Gerson has been critical in setting up our soundtrack. In Dark, Chuck Hudson has brought a sense of action and staging that has made this play POP. John Demous has given his talents to light the play and Heidi Lauren Duke has stepped in as assistant director to tighten and energize the piece. You’re only as good as your weakest link and there’s not one in the whole bunch. I’ve been fortunate!


DARK AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL perfoms Monday, Oct. 24 at Theatre Row on 42nd Street in New York City as part of the United Solo Festival. Purchase tickets at Telecharge.

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