About Us

Celebrating 20 seasons of developing new plays by Georgia playwrights, Essential Theatre has launched the careers of some of the nation’s most important contemporary writers.
Atlanta Magazine, on naming Essential Theatre the Best New Play Incubator in 2018

Essential Theatre’s mission is to nurture and produce new works by Georgia playwrights and to enrich our audience’s experience by actively engaging them in the process. Our vision is a thriving, dynamic American theatre community in which Georgia playwrights are a recognized and celebrated part.

We began producing an annual Play Festival, including a full production of at least one new play by a Georgia writer every year, in 1999.  In 2012, we began producing all new works by Georgia writers and have continued doing that ever since.  Since our first Festival in 1999, we’ve premiered 37 new works by 32 different Georgia playwrights, all receiving productions of the highest artistic quality through Essential and many going on to receive future productions elsewhere in Atlanta and across the country.

Essential Theatre plays a vital role in the Atlanta theatre ecosystem. Writers learn essential playwriting tools with Essential’s high production values and Peter Hardy’s excellent artistic stewardship. Their work is indeed essential!
Celise Kalke, Former Director of New Projects at the Alliance Theater

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan

Meet Our Team:

Our Staff

Peter Hardy


Peter Hardy  is the founding Artistic Director of the Essential Theatre.  He’s been working professionally in the Atlanta area for over 30 years, as an actor, playwright and director.  He’s a Suzi Bass Award-winning director who has directed over 80 productions in Georgia, North Carolina and New York, and he served as Artistic Director for the Mountainside Theatre in Cherokee, North Carolina for the summers from 1990 through 2005.  He’s had over thirty productions of his plays done around the country and has received playwriting awards from the National Playwrights’ Conference, the Festival of Southern Theatre and the New Southern Theatre Festival

Jennifer Kimball

Managing Director

Jennifer Kimball has been involved with Essential Theatre since 2003. A production and stage manager and general organizer-at-large in the Atlanta area, Jennifer also actively collaborates with Synchronicity Theatre, 7 Stages Theatre, and Théâtre du Rêve among others. She also worked in Student Engagement at Georgia Tech from 2013-2016 and is currently on staff at the Schwartz Center for the Arts at Emory University. Inspired by new creative work and meaningful connection, her goal is to nurture both through her work with Essential.

Education Associates

Elisabeth Cooper

Elisabeth Cooper has been with Essential Theatre since 2016. She is a Teaching Artist and Educator with over 20 years teaching and mentoring students of all levels. She has worked as a teacher with summer camps through the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech, a guest lecturer at various high schools, was the Education Director for Dad’s Garage Theatre Company, was a member of the Education Advisory Committee for the Georgia Shakespeare Festival, and works with Synchronicity Theatre’s Playmaking for Girls program.

Emily McClain

Emily McClain is a theatre educator and playwright. Her play Slaying Holofernes, was co-winner of the 2019 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award and received its World Premiere production as part of the 2019 Essential Theatre Play Festival. Her short plays have been staged locally at Out of Box Theatre, Merely Players, Atlanta AppCo Alumni, and Actor’s Express, and nationally at Raze The Space (Los Angeles, CA), Theatre Oxford (Oxford, MS), and the Eden Prairie Players (Eden Prairie, MN).

Board of Directors

C. E. Patten II

C. E. Patten II

board member since 2020
Managing director, Excelr8 advisory services LLC

“I have a personal passion for theater, as evidenced by my humanities concentration at MIT in Music, Theater, and Performing Arts; my major was Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Essential Theater allows for my diverse palette and personality to flourish. I’m excited to join the Essential Theater Board and support local playwrights as a counterbalance to new ventures in my life.”

Shawn Watwood

Shawn Watwood

Vice President
board member since 2020
Director of Cultural Affairs, Israeli Consulate

“I’m passionate about theater and the arts as a vehicle for change, thought and creative expression.”

Audrey Galex

Audrey Galex


“Being on the board of Essential allows me to help Georgia’s theatre creatives reach an audience, and audiences experience new and emerging forms of theater.”

Alissa Scherb

Alissa Scherb

BOARD MEMBER SINCE 2017, former board president
Manager of corporate and foundation relations, Atlanta ronald mcdonald house charities

“I started doing theatre in high school…What attracted me to Essential was not just doing the theatre but also pulling in the playwriting aspect.”

Edward Henderson

Edward Henderson

board member since 2019
Atlanta West End Rotary member, Chairman of Sovereignty Realty Group, LLC, Co-host of talk-show Globally U

“I was drawn to Essential after attending the amazing annual Essential Play Festival years ago and genuinely enjoyed the fresh, original playwright’s masterpiece come to life in live theatre! I believe there is an opportunity and a synergy between the theatre and education which can positively impact the communities we serve in Georgia and the world over.”

Kacie Willis

Kacie Willis

board member since 2020, former board secretary

“I am excited to be an advocate for the support of new work and to encourage audiences to find delight in experiencing fresh artistic perspectives. Providing a platform for local, emerging playwrights to workshop full productions is extremely beneficial to ensure that the Georgia theatrical cannon remains relevant.”

Janice Overbeck


“Being on the Essential Theatre Board is a great way for me to be involved in something I have had a passion for since I was a little girl.”