Announcing the 2024 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award Winner, Emily McClain!

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We are pleased and excited to announce that the 2024 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award winner is Emily McClain, with The Rock & The Hard Place! Her play will receive a full production in this summer’s Festival as well as a $1,000 cash prize. The 2024 Award is sponsored by Could Be Pretty Cool, our Playwriting Award Sponsor since 2021. Emily will be honored at this year’s Celebration of Georgia Playwrights event in April – plan to join us and show your support for Emily and your appreciation for Georgia’s rich dramatic heritage!

This is McClain’s second Essential Theatre Playwriting Award, the first being for her very first full-length play, Slaying Holofernes, which was co-winner of the 2019 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award and received its world premiere production in the 2019 Essential Theatre Play Festival.

“After the amazing experience that I had in 2019 when Essential produced Slaying Holofernes, I feel very confident that my play will be in great hands having its world premiere with Essential. I appreciate the quality of artists and theatre makers that Essential brings into their productions too because they are always people who value high-quality art and storytelling. Additionally, The Rock & The Hard Place is set in Georgia and addresses topics that are important conversations for audiences to have, and I think that Essential has the community-minded focus to tap into and guide those conversations,” said Emily of winning the 2024 Playwriting Award.

“I consider the playwriting contest to be one of the most important parts of our artistic ecosystem here in Georgia,” she says. “I encourage all Georgia playwrights to submit, because developing new work is the lifeblood of this art form.”

About Emily McClain

Emily McClain is a professional playwright, theatre educator and a member of WriteStuffATL and the Dramatists Guild. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, she currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia where she teaches theatre at School of the Arts @ Central Gwinnett.

Since her first production with Essential in 2019, she has become quite prolific and accomplished, with later plays being produced and earning accolades locally, nationally and abroad, from a Synchronicity Theatre Stripped Bare grant here in Atlanta to the Risk Theatre International Competition and the William Faulkner Literary Prize. 

About The Rock & The Hard Place

This play follows Elsie Tully as she is driven to extreme lengths in her attempts to exonerate her
father, who is on Death Row, condemned to be executed for a crime she’s sure he didn’t commit. The play began as a single scene commissioned for the Courtroom Drama Series at Actor’s Express, a series that addresses ethical questions as part of lawyers’ continuing education accreditation. “The idea that attorney-client privilege exists even after the death of the client, and even when sharing information could free an innocent man (as was the case in the circumstances that inspired this play), is a thorny ethical dilemma I wanted the audience of lawyers at the Courtroom Drama Series to wrestle with,” shares McClain. “Currently, twenty-seven states maintain Death Row and execute people in this country, and the majority of those are in the South, so this is an issue that we must grapple with more intensely than in other parts of the country…I hope that this story will prompt audience conversation about the death penalty, the difficulty in exonerating innocent people, and the responsibility we have as a society to build a system of true restorative justice.”

About the Celebration of Georgia Playwrights

Join us on Sunday April 28 for our annual Celebration of Georgia Playwrights! The Celebration will take place from 4-6pm at Manuel’s Tavern. All who are interested in supporting the Arts in Georgia are invited to attend. Admission is free but RSVP is requested

About the 2024 Essential Theatre Play Festival

The 2024 Essential Theatre Play Festival will take place August 9 – September 1, 2024, at 7 Stages in Little Five Points. This summer marks the 25th Anniversary for the Essential Theatre Play Festival, which began in 1999 and since its inception has brought Atlanta audiences productions of 45 new works by 36 different Georgia playwrights and readings of over 50 more, many of which have gone on to publication and future productions around the country.

About the playwriting competition

Started in 2001, this is the only competition of its kind, exclusively dedicated to the work of Georgia playwrights, with the winner receiving both a cash prize and a full production. Playwrights must be residents of the State of Georgia. There are no entry fees and no restrictions as to style, length or subject matter, though previously unproduced plays that would run an hour or more in performance are preferred. The deadline for the 2025 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award competition is April 23, 2024. Past Essential Theatre Playwriting Award winners include Karen Wurl, Karla Jennings, Vynnie Meli, Lauren Gunderson, Topher Payne,  Valetta Anderson, and John Mabey. For more information or to submit your play, visit The 2024 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award is sponsored by Could Be Pretty Cool Productions, who has been the Award’s Sponsor since 2021.