Around F.C., Arts & Entertainment

Falls Church Resident Debuts Play About Skin Cancer Experience

When Falls Church resident Dara Padwo-Audick found out she had skin cancer seven years ago, she didn’t expect her diagnosis to become a dramatic comedy.

At this year’s Capital Fringe Festival — a D.C.-based festival aimed at “celebrating cultural democracy” through art and artistic expression — “Onion Skin” made its performative debut on July 16, telling the story of four skin cancer patients and how they face their mortality. 

Padwo-Audick, the playwright, co-director and co-producer of “Onion Skin,” collaborated with Creative Cauldron’s artistic associate, Matt Conner, to debut the play. 

The story behind “Onion Skin” is a personal one — Padwo-Audick has had eight surgeries to fight off her various skin cancer diagnoses and said she wanted to share her “mixed” experience with the medical community. 

“I had a lot of feelings about the fact that most people don’t know that much about skin cancer,” Padwo-Audick said. “I knew I wanted to do something creative with it.” 

Having had experience with stage-directing and film producing, this was the first time Padwo-Audick wrote, directed and produced a show of her own. Conner, having produced shows “all over the world” and composing music for various performances, came in contact with Padwo-Audick through a mutual friend and a “bubbling” of creative minds came to be. 

“We clearly feel like this is a launching of an idea that will become bigger than what it is now,” Conner said. 

The history of “Onion Skin” began right before the pandemic hit. Padwo-Audick said the process included writing and rewriting character analyses and scenes, as well as completing research on various skin cancer surgeries. 

The story behind “Onion Skin” is based off playwright’s Dara Padwo-Audick’s experience with skin cancer and the medical community. (Photo: Dara Padwo-Audick)

Casting the play included a focus on diversity, with both Padwo-Audick and Conner searching for potential actors through social media posts. 

“I know how close Dara is to this piece [with] it being sort of a personal journey,” Conner said. “I wanted it to really come from her vision.”

The team faced some challenges during the production of “Onion Skin,” but one thing Padwo-Audick said she wanted to ensure is that the play’s actors were paid “fairly.” Through fundraisers, Padwo-Audick was able to raise $20,000 for all actors involved. 

Once production of the play was complete, Padwo-Audick and Conner applied for “Onion Skin” to be featured during the Capital Fringe Festival. Padwo-Audick said the festival turns down a lot of applicants, so being chosen was “very exciting.” 

“It literally went from ‘I’m not sure where this play is going to go,’” Padwo-Audick said, “to then them taking us.” 

With “Onion Skin” being completely sold out by their first showing on July 16, Conner said he hopes audiences will be both entertained and educated, whether they are cancer survivors or not. 

“I think that people’s reactions are going to be a plethora of things because there’s different windows into the show,” Conner said. “It’s more of an experience than it is just going to watch a play.” 

Padwo-Audick said she wants “Onion Skin” to be an awakening for audiences on the seriousness of skin cancer and how a diagnosis can change one’s life. As part of this goal, Padwo-Audick partnered with MDSolarSciences — a dermatologist-developed brand of sunscreen — to donate sunscreen to all audience members. 

As for what’s next for Padwo-Audick and Conner’s debut collaboration, both parties hope that “Onion Skin” will become popular enough to be performed at various theaters, and even be made into a film one day.  

“Our hope is that we actually can make this bigger,” Padwo-Audick said. “Part of this is skin cancer awareness, but it’s more than just skin cancer; it’s just awareness in general.”