A "vanguard figure of socially conscious theatre" (Lena Hunter, CPHPost), Riley Elton McCarthy a critically acclaimed playwright, performer, and director.
“The most original voice in horror since Mike Flanagan” (Rory Ford, The Scotsman), Riley writes scary plays for all those queer insomniacs who love everything that goes bump in the night. Riley’s writing, that “displays a unique and intellectual writing style; combining a mix of natural, poetic dialogue, wit, and narration” (Phoebe Louise, Lost in Theatreland) has been seen and published internationally, spanning from Edinburgh, London, Denmark, and beyond, and their magnum opus, IVORIES, is available for purchase at The Drama Book Shop after being published by NextStage Press.
Riley is a multi-media playwright; often directing, starring, and designing their own work. They are a sound designer, a lighting designer, and projection designer, and a working-class artist interested in interrogating found-object theatre and site specific work, which they blend into their exploration of queer horror. Riley is hands-on and a collaborative deviser, interested in exploring movement theatre, song, community experiences, and breath work in their newest haunts.
They are a two-time Eugene O’Neill Semi-Finalist for Sharon and Melina and I'M GOING TO EAT YOU ALIVE, and are a two-time SheNYCArts Semi-finalist for The Lesbian Play and Take Me Down to the Levee. Their production of IVORIES at 59E59 and Edinburgh Fringe was nominated for an Off-Fest Award, long-listed for the Brighton Fringe Award for Excellence.They’ve been produced off-broadway at The Triad Theater with The Lesbian Play, and they’ve had presentations of their work at The Brick, The Gilbert Theater, Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Tank, 59E59, and Yale School for Drama. They are a resident playwright with Lakehouseranchdotpng, a resident playwright in the TGNB2S+ Affinity Intensive with Workshop Theater, INKubator with Art House Productions, and CPH HOTMeat in the International World Pride festival in Copenhagen. Their work has been nominated for 32 Off/Off-Off-Broadway BroadwayWorld Awards. Riley has also worked directly with Adam Driver's Arts in the Armed Forces.
Riley is currently developing a new piece for Edinburgh Fringe 2024, titled Frog Dinner, with a June 2024 tryout at The Tank, and writing a currently-untitled gender reveal party musical with Eliana Rubin. Their adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's complete bibliography, EDGAR ALLAN SHITPOEST, will premiere at The Tank in March 2024. Rutgers will be presenting an exclusive reading of their work at Ensemble Studio Theatre in April 2024. Their horror hit IVORIES will be returning internationally in Fall 2024.
Riley comes from a family of immigrants, soldiers, and revolutionaries and is connected deeply to their Danish heritage. They live with complex autoimmune disorders and document the influence of their lifelong battle with disability in their work. They are a direct descendant of Wild Bill Hickok, and Presidents John Tyler and Ulysses S. Grant.
BFA: Marymount Manhattan College (Playwriting & Acting)
MFA: Rutgers University (Playwriting, Graduation: 2025)
Legacy is always on the top of an artist's mind... in a world where the great cartographers of our understanding of this world, its art, and its sciences, charted the path forward in life but are only appreciated for their creations after death, we are conditioned to believe that the most important thing that we can do is build the work today for generations to see tomorrow. Do our lives lack meaning if we are not known in history for our contributions? Can we accept being "nothing"? And how do we fill that "nothing" in the moments we share together now? How do we create meaning, even if it's just for ourselves?
Part of me is absorbed in the idea of a legacy as a queer person, but also in understanding my place in the world of a writer is capturing a moment like a historian would-- the tone I set, the worlds I choose to create in a story, and the responsibility I have to my community to tell our stories comes from the survival of generations of queer people that have been persecuted across the globe, and continue to be, for hundreds of thousands of years. Knowing today that I myself have blood relatives who have passed from AIDS, whose stories will never be told, the urgency to speak to queer relations now is a heavier precedent than ever, and one I feel I must set above all else. Queer liberation starts with documentation of our truths, our livelihoods, and our joy above our pain.
I am fascinated by anthropological and societal constructs of self. I am transgender, and my own concept of self is built around the idea that everything is a construct created by man, be it our architectural wonders, our understanding of body and of nature, or our artistic endeavors. My body is a canvas for storytelling. Near death experiences have shaped me into an endlessly curious and philosophical writer, especially about these man-made constructs that seemingly define the architecture of society itself.
I write a lot about toxic masculinity and the identity of "manhood". Ultimately, we live in a world built by the hands of marginalized people, but shaped by the laws of man-- a power dynamic and a discordance that has created a fabricated net of falsehoods, shattered dreams, and broken societies. I write a lot about queer joy and euphoria, of experiencing humanization, and validation, but conversely, of how the American Dream disillusions us all, and unravels itself in the hands of our country's future. I'm fascinated by subverting the horror genre. I find horror theatre to be a challenge-- it's oft disliked, and oft misused-- and digging into what gets under peoples' skin.
I've become a bit of a "DIY" aficionado, having picked up lighting design, projection design, and sound design from a childhood filled with technological escapes. I combine my technical knowledge into my work, be it from designing odd props to live foley, and really uncover where the intersections of identity within performance lie in the actual creation of the process.
I also love a good cup of earl grey tea. Unrelated, I suppose. A cup of earl grey is the best way to start the day.
all about love - bell hooks
Slouching Towards Bethlehem - Joan Didion
The Creative Act - John Rubin
Conflict is Not Abuse - Sarah Schulman
The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton
Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself - Nedra Glover Tawwab
Interview with the Vampire - Anne Rice
The Viewpoints Book - Anne Bogart
The Giver - Lois Lowry
Number the Stars - Lois Lowry
Wilder Girls - Rory Power
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows - John Koenig
On Writing - Stephen King
The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe - Edgar Allan Poe
The Skeleton Twins (2014)
Jim Henson's The Labyrinth (1986)
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
The Sound of Music (1965)
The House (2022)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
The Ferryman - Jez Butterworth
Agnes of God - John Pielmeier
Scene Partners - John J. Caswell
The Boys in the Band - Mart Crowley
The Crucible - Arthur Miller
Ink - James Graham
Mosquitoes - Lucy Kirkwood
Usual Girls - Ming Peiffer
Sagittarius Ponderosa - MJ Kaufman
The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window - Lorraine Hansberry
Torch Song - Harvey Fierstein
Three Tall Women - Edward Albee