poor herman

Herman Melville’s great-great-great granddaughter, Austin playwright Elizabeth Doss, uses the author as a subject to speculate on the line between utter genius and epic failure in us all. Poor Herman unearths the life of Herman Melville, who arguably wrote America’s best and worst novels back to back in the 1850 and 1851. The production considers what compelled Melville, struggling to salvage his declining reputation while trying to feed a growing family, to write a virtually unreadable book, Pierre or the Ambiguities, in the aftermath of Moby Dick’s initial failure with critics and readers. The play gives voice to the unsung people in his life, chiefly his mother, wife, sisters, and daughters who each contributed to his fame and flourishing, and endured his decline and demise. While hindsight now celebrates his achievements, paper chairs will investigate what it cost him to make history.

Performed in May of 2016 at The Off Center, featuring: Courtney Hopkin, Alexis Scott, Diana Lynn Small, Megan Tabaque, and Rama Tchuente.



On an Air Force base outside Abilene, TX, Anne, a rancher’s daughter, and Walter, a globe-trotting journalist, conceive a child in the heat of wartime frenzy. The two recklessly elope to the Trujillo-oppressed Dominican Republic and face the edges and ends of themselves. Based on the legacy from Doss’s own mid-century Texan relatives, MAST is a photograph that spans the decades of Anne and Walter’s estranged lives, un-posed, only half-exposed and lost at sea.


the suicide

The Suicide follows an unemployed and dejected Semyon, living off his wife’s meager income, without penny or purpose to his name. After Semyon fails at his final hope of restoring meaning to his life (learning to play the tuba), Semyon believes himself better off dead. When his neighbour leaks news of his impending suicide to various societal factions, a myriad of strange visitors bombard Semyon’s apartment, demanding that he take his life for their cause. Thus ensues a sublimely ridiculous last supper and a funeral that illuminates the individual’s dogged desire to live even as society usurps the human spirit.

Originally written in 1928 for the Meyerhold Theatre in Moscow, Soviet authorities banned the play before it opened and banished Erdman to Siberia. Join paper chairs as we revamp this rare classic that employs absolute absurdity to earnestly consider what gives us the gumption to go on living.

Performed at the Off Center in the spring of 2014, featuring: Michael Joplin, Kelli Bland, Lana Dieterich, Nathan Brockett, Florinda Bryant, Frank Benge, Laura Freeman,...

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murder ballad murder mystery

Murder Ballad Murder Mystery is a backwoods musical spun from legendary criminals caught on a killing spree. A lone sheriff aims to hold back the dark side while a host of ragtag demons sing, dance and point their pistols into oblivion. Set with flexible environmental staging suitable for any saloon, sometimes these murder ballads arise from beneath bar stools while other times they fall from a dusty ceiling. Part slapstick haunting and part ramshackle ho-down, this piece investigates the many the ways and whys we carry out a death sentence.



Long time favorite of Frontera Fest and Austin Script Works, local playwright Hank Schwemmer has devoted over fifteen years to crafting singular theatrical experiences that supersede most fringe theater’s penchant for experimentation. While Schwemmer may be a veritable master of self-producing, Paper Chairs unanimously agreed a fully realized production of his work was long overdue. Over several months, the company selected a handful of Schwemmer’s unique offerings that together create a surprising world filled with peculiar characters in far-out circumstances, but consistently hit staggeringly close to home. Suspense will build through dark revelations in The Oracle Game. Puzzles will fall like snowflakes in Ballet for Dog and Red-Haired Girl. Outlandish fantasies will entertain in My Dream Date with Laurie Anderson. In less than two hours, six plays by Hank Schwemmer promise a cohesive smattering of everything.

Breaking ground in a new performance space, Delta Millworks, on East Fifth across the street from Justine’s Brasserie. A carpenter by trade, Schemmer’s work will...


hillcountry underbelly

Pa’s fall down a deathtrap rattles through the land like thunder. His ghost appears in limestone, prophesying a great flood will take the hillcountry by storm. His six surviving orphans must head to higher ground to elude their demise. Watch the pack aim to outrun and outsmart every obstacle on the outskirts in the fierce pursuit of life. How do you survive a flood when you’ve lost your roots?

Performed in the VORTEX Yard in the summer of 2011, featuring: Robert Pierson, Caroline Reck, Mark Stewart, Jenn Hartmann, Kelli Bland, Noel Gaulin, Emily Tindall, and Jacob Trussell. Photography by Derric Fore.

written by Elizabeth Doss

music by Mark Stewart

co-directed by Dustin Wills

co-directed by Keri Boyd

scenic design by Lisa Laratta

costume design by Dustin Wills

projection design by Noel Gaulin

sound design by Robert Pierson

lighting design by Natalie George

stage managed by Amber Loftis

asst. stage managed by Spring Karlo

technical direction by Tyson Estes

Performed in the VORTEX Yard in the summer...